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Water Bond Masks an Insidious Land Grab

October 27, 2002|Bill Pauli

Consider the following facts:

* California's population, now at 35 million, is projected to reach 45.8 million by 2020;

* Southern California just suffered through the driest year on record in some places. In Northern California, two straight below-normal years could presage a multiyear drought;

* A "water bond" on the November ballot contains absolutely no money dedicated to development of water storage facilities.

Does that make sense?

At a time when California faces pressing water needs, special-interest groups have put together Proposition 50 to provide taxpayer money to acquire private land.

Though described in your ballot pamphlet as the "Water Quality, Supply and Safe Drinking Water Projects; Coastal Wetlands Purchase and Protection" initiative, Proposition 50 devotes less than a third of its $3.4 billion to water supplies. The water-safety portion of the bond makes up less than 1% of the total.

So, if the special interests aren't that interested in enhancing or protecting your water supply, what do they want?

They want you to think you're voting for more water.

They want you to let them control more California land than they already do.

And they want you to foot the bill.

Instead of addressing the need to supply water to California's people, Proposition 50 provides government subsidies for large, corporate environmentalism. The Nature Conservancy, the biggest-money environmental group in the country, is a key supporter of Proposition 50; its lobbyists helped write it.

The Nature Conservancy takes in $732 million in annual revenue and pays its top executive more than $210,000. Yet it wants you to help it buy more California land by voting for Proposition 50.

Never mind that the government already owns half of the land in California and could devote its resources to improving habitat on land it already owns.

Never mind that privately owned, productive and well-managed farmland provides excellent habitat.

Never mind that removing land from private ownership removes it from the tax rolls, which ultimately inflates your property tax bill.

Government agencies have embarked on a quiet but relentless plan to absorb hundreds of thousands of additional acres of private land, and Proposition 50 helps them do so at your expense.

But farmers don't want to be bought out or pushed out by the aggressive land-buying program that Proposition 50 would support.

California's growing population needs the crops that we produce here more efficiently than anywhere else.

Our growing population will also require additional water to sustain it. California water supplies are stretched to their limit, and we face the prospect of crushing water shortages in our next multiyear drought.

Unfortunately, Proposition 50 fails to address that problem adequately.

Water is a precious commodity. We need to use it efficiently and save more in storage during wet years so we have it available for the drought that we know is inevitable.

Your vote is precious, too. You should not waste it on a Trojan-horse measure that claims to provide water but hides an insidious land grab.

Instead, urge your legislators and the governor to produce water policies that make sense for California's environment and its people.

*

Bill Pauli, the president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, is a farmer who grows wine grapes and pears in Potter Valley, Mendocino County.

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