Prop 1 Cheat Sheet: New Dams, Cleaner Drinking Water, and Protected Watersheds

The water level in Lake Oroville, north of Sacramento, seen in 2011 and 2014, shows the severe degree of California's drought. | Photos: Courtesy Paul Hames and Kelly Grow, California Department of Water Resources
The water level in Lake Oroville, north of Sacramento, seen in 2011 and 2014, shows the severe degree of California's drought. | Photos: Courtesy Paul Hames and Kelly Grow, California Department of Water Resources

This cheat sheet was published in tandem with a Prop 1 segment on KCET's "SoCal Connected." Watch it here or watch the full election special here.

Proposition 1 will appear on California's Nov. 4, 2014, ballot.

Since it began in 2011, California's drought has reached the highest level of severity in 50 of the state's 58 counties, according to the federal government, and prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency.

Perhaps due to the state's parched condition, legislators in Sacramento finally voted to put an overhaul of the state's water system -- a prospect that has been discussed for years -- on the ballot.

Prop 1 would approve the sale of $7.5 billion in bonds to clean, protect, and expand California's water supply over the long term. Generally speaking, the bill would shift the state's heavy reliance on snowpack, the largest water source, and one that global warming could lessen over time, to local sources. It would capture and store more water to better prepare for the region's natural drought cycles.

Though some projects could have an immediate impact on the current drought, such as water conservation measures, the initiative would largely fund projects that could take years or decades to produce results.

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The initiative calls for building dams, fixing water storage infrastructure, cleaning drinking water, protecting watersheds, and preventing floods. Rather than earmarking the money for specific uses, the initiative generally requires competition among projects vying for funding. Prop 1 aims to increase and improve water for agriculture and business as well as drinking. Local governments would be required to put up at least half of the money for many projects.

Proponents say California's water system was built for a much smaller population and upkeep and expansion have been neglected for decades.

If passed, the bill would require the state to pay $360 million a year for 40 years. Money would become available as lawmakers approve projects and sell bonds to fund them.

No money in the bill is earmarked for the governor's twin tunnel water diversion project on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. However, some fear projects funded by Prop 1 could boost the tunnels' prospects.

The bill also states that its funds "may" be used to build two reservoirs envisioned by a 2000 agreement among water agencies. They are the Sites Reservoir in Colusa County and Temperance Flats in Fresno County.

Voters experiencing a case of déjà vu may remember similar measures from recent years. Earlier versions were placed on and then struck from the 2010 and 2012 ballots. In August, an $11 billion iteration of the measure, known as Proposition 43, was renamed and reborn as the less-expensive Prop 1.

Here's one small example of how Prop 1 might work: The bill sets aside $100 million for projects to "protect and enhance" anything defined as an urban creek. Local governments are then free to submit projects for urban creeks. In many cases, local governments seeking funds will need to foot the bill for some portion of a project's cost.

The wide array of projects that could find funding has won the bill broad bipartisan support and put many industry and environmental groups in the YES camp.

How the Money Breaks Down

Roughly, here's how the $7.5 billion in this prop breaks down:

  • $4.2 billion for dams and water recycling infrastructure
  • $1.5 billion for protecting and restoring watersheds
  • $1.4 billion to cleaning polluted groundwater and protecting against future contamination
  • $395 million to repairing levees and other means of flood-protection.

To break it down further, here's how the $4.2 billion for infrastructure will be split up:

  • $2.7 billion is explicitly set aside for dams and ground water storage
  • $810 million will be for regional projects such as water conservation and rainwater capture
  • $725 million will be devoted to water recycling, such as desalination

And how the $1.5 billion for protecting and restoring watersheds breaks down:

  • $515 million for watershed restoration and habitat protection ($140 million of this would go toward projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta)
  • $475 million will be for other environmental restorations
  • $305 million will be used for watershed restoration
  • $200 million will be used to increase the amount of flowing water in rivers and streams

The $1.4 billion for cleaning groundwater breaks down this way:

  • $800 million for groundwater pollution prevention and cleanup
  • $260 million for drinking water projects in disadvantaged communities
  • $260 million for wastewater treatment in small communities
  • $100 million for local projects to manage groundwater

Lastly, the remaining $395 million for flood protection:

  • $295 million for repairs and improvements in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
  • $100 million for flood protection around California

The bill also sets aside a relatively small amount of money for specific water management areas and, under the heading of protecting waterways, hands money to state agencies such as California State Coastal Conservancy ($100 million), Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy ($50 million), California Ocean Protection Council ($30 million), San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy ($30 million), and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy ($30 million).

Key Points:
$7.5 billion would be devoted to a wide array of water projects aimed at shifting the state's reliance on snowpack to other sources

Major uses of money would be: building dams and reservoirs, cleaning drinking water, protecting and restoring watersheds, protecting against floods, and recycling water

Prop 1 is unlikely to ease the current drought

The water is for agriculture and business, as well as drinking

What Your Vote Means:
Voting YES means the state will sell bonds to pay $360 million annually over 40 years for water projects


Voting NO means the state will NOT authorize $7.5 billion for water projects aimed at shifting the state's reliance on snowpack to other sources

VOTING YES means California is likely to see construction of new dams, improvement of water storage, protection of rivers, lakes and coastal areas, and a wide range of water projects

Principal Supporters:
California Democratic Party
California Republican Party
California Farm Bureau Federation
The Nature Conservancy
Sean Parker, tech entrepreneur

Principal Opponents:
Vote No on Prop 1
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
California Striped Bass Association
California Water Impact Network
Center for Biological Diversity

Click here for full text of the proposition.

NOTE: The author of this post -- not the proponents of each measure -- selected the aforementioned key points for each ballot measure. They do not represent all of the provisions detailed in Proposition 1, rather they are intended to offer the salient details.

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