California rejects water bond. New approaches are needed

California aqueduct
California aqueduct

Californians rejected a water bond proposition on Nov 6. They care about water, and have passed water bonds in the past. Perhaps new approaches are needed, rather than just issuing more bonds for massive projects that make bankers and contractors wealthy. Sure, billion dollar tunnels are sometimes needed. However, supplying clean water to areas that do not have it, replenishing groundwater supplies, toilet-to-tap systems, reusing water, and improving water efficiency are crucial too. And not just in California.

Instead, charge water users fees based on the amount of water they use. Too often water prices are flat prices, subsidized, or on sliding scale where the more you use the less you pay per gallon. A fee system also helps on conservation. The more water costs, the less likely it is to be wasted. That’s just basic economics.

Maybe the message is that it’s time to look for a different approach. Instead of a costly bond that puts more pressure on the state’s general fund, legislators should consider fees tied directly to the amount of water people use.

A water user fee would be simple: a tiny charge on all surface and groundwater withdrawals. We have similar fees already on energy, cell phones, and other basic utility services.

A modest user fee of only $20 per acre-foot of water, or $0.0006 per gallon, would generate $800 million per year. Such a fee would raise my home water bill by less than 50 cents per month.