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Diverse Interests Hail $7.5-Billion Calif. Water Bond Measure

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Photo courtesy of Kelly Huston, Office of the Governor, California
State lawmakers circle around California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who signed water infrastructure legislation that state voters will consider on the November ballot.
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Construction and engineering groups are upbeat about a $7.5-billion water bond measure on the California ballot in November.

“We see nothing but good coming from the water bond, driven in large part by the years of neglect of our water system” in California, says Tom Holsman, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of California. Holsman says the measure, if it passes, would provide a much-needed boost to the construction industry, which has seen a “very slow, but steady” amount of work over the past few years.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the bond measure on Aug. 13, after the state legislature reached a compromise on the the package. It would provide $7.5 billion for water infrastructure in California, including $2.7 billion for emergency storage; $1.5 billion for water recycling, stormwater capture, water efficiency and other local water supply projects; $900 million for groundwater projects; and funds for flood-control and ecosystem restoration.

The package is largely a response to drought in California, which state officials say has reached historic proportions over the past year. The measure was under intense scrutiny in recent weeks as state lawmakers tried to agree on a bill that would gain approval by state voters. State-wide polling indicated that an earlier $11.1-billion package did not have enough voter support, says Mary Erchul, project manager for Ghirardelli Associates and president of the California Chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies.

Erchul describes the current measure as a compromise among different regional interests within the state. However, “it’s a vital first step in the right direction” for water infrastructure in California, she adds.

Environmental groups also praised the measure. Ann Notthoff, California water director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the water bond “is the right response to this drought. It invests billions of dollars in cost-effective, 21st-century water solutions that will restore ecosystems, stabilize our ailing freshwater systems, clean up and manage our groundwater basins and improve reliability of water throughout California.”

If voters approve the measure in November, funds will be distributed to various water agencies, which will award contracts on various water infrastructure projects.  Holsman says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the proposal will pass. “One of the things that drives these sorts of things is a sense of urgency, and clearly with the drought, we have a sense of urgency,” he says.


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