New climate resilience bond heads to November ballot

California voters will decide in November if the $10 billion climate resilience bond is worth the price tag.

Last week Acting Governor Mike McGuire signed SB 867, the Safe Drinking Water, Wildfire Prevention, Drought Preparedness, and Clean Air Bond Act of 2024. The bond measure would allow the state to borrow money to fund investments in safe drinking water and drought, flood, and water resilience, as well as investments in wildfire and forest resilience, sea-level rise, extreme heat mitigation, clean air, and protecting biodiversity and promoting natural solutions.

“These historic bond measures passed by the Legislature are critical investments for our kids, they’ll make our communities more wildfire safe and connect tens of thousands of homes in every corner of the Golden State with clean drinking water,” Acting Governor McGuire said. “…The safe drinking water and wildfire prevention bond will sustain and enhance quality of life in the Golden State by providing communities the resources they need to protect themselves from the growing threat of wildfires and floods, and help protect them from the impacts of extreme heat. We’re grateful to the legislative leaders who worked so incredibly hard to get these life-changing measures across the finish line.”

While the legislature is patting itself on the back for a job well done, not everyone is enthused by the final bill.

“Bonds should be used for significant capital investments, the kind that benefit the entire state for generations to come,” said Jennifer Pierre, General Manager of the State Water Contractors. “While putting this bond on the ballot would be a historic moment for California, it doesn’t include enough funding for capital investments in areas that have been historically underfunded at the state and federal levels, and now might not be the right time.”

The Safe Drinking Water, Wildfire Prevention, Drought Preparedness, and Clear Air Bond Act of 2024 has eight potential funding areas.

  • Safe Drinking Water, Drought, Flood and Water Resilience – $3.8 billion
  • Wildfires and Forest Resilience – $1.5 billion
  • Sea Level Rise and Coastal Resilience – $1.2 billion
  • Protect Biodiversity and Accelerating Nature-Based Climate Solutions – $1.2 billion
  • Clean Air – $850 million
  • Park Creation and Outdoor Access – $700 million
  • Extreme Heat Mitigation – $450 million
  • Climate Smart, Sustainable & Resilient Farms, Ranches and Working Lands – $300 million

The bond also sets aside $475 million for offshore wind.

“This proposed climate resilience bond fails to incorporate key investments needed to ensure the future reliability of the State Water Project, which provides water to two of every three Californians and 750,000 acres of important farmland,” Pierre said in a statement. “We have immediate and critical needs for capital investments in the State Water Project, including physical infrastructure to maximize public benefits, necessary repairs and improvements to ensure ongoing efficient operations, and modifying operations to aid California’s clean energy transition. Unfortunately, these critical investments are underfunded by a mile or left out altogether.”

California taxpayers would be on the hook to pay the bond back with interest. Experts estimate it would cost the state $650 million a year for the next 30 years or more than $19 billion.

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