The bond will be the talk of this conference. It will be the rallying cry. Behind most presentations will be THE BOND.
Although some bond election efforts began months ago (and another push naturally starts after the June primary is done), the REALLY BIG push begins this week once the state's major water players leave Monterey, armed with inspiration, key messages and, hopefully, a better sense of how the campaign will be waged.
Gauging from prior gatherings, big news may come out of the conference. But, I predict, an end to the drought won't be declared here - nor anywhere else in 2010. (I'll explain "why" further down).
This "non-news" or silence could be the loudest and most deciding factor in the November election, and will be important for state water leaders to understand during all the speeches in Monterey this week.
- Some unions oppose because debt payments on the bond will cut into the states general fund and, therefore, affect the size of future state wage increases and benefits;
- A leading farm organization opposes because it is trying to leverage some guarantees - totally unrelated to water - from the state Legislature in exchange for a support position;
- Many environmental groups and some politicians allege the bond is filled with pork projects (CA Legislature admits this) and will only lead to further environmental damage (dams?) without securing more water conservation (read: growth continues in CA).
- Will the economy be upbeat? In a good economy, voters feel less reluctant to vote against money-related ballot measures. Currently, we're trending to better times in November;
- Endorsements. Can opponents join forces and have their arguments heard in a unified voice over the roar of a well-funded proponent campaign? Not likely;
- Turnout. This is a mostly GOP-supported bond in a year with the governorship at stake. If a GOP candidate wins for governor, it's likely the bond will do well. Although we have leading Dems supporting this bond, it's still a partisan election;
- Local. The battle for this bond will be waged in the backyards of every water agency and state legislative district. If proponents do a good job explaining how this bond will benefit "my" community, it will pass, and;
- Money. The last water bond passed with more than $30 million in outreach and advertising. My guess: the November water bond will need at least a $50 million election budget to win. (Interesting to watch: The "Save Our Water" campaign is ramping up again this year. It wasn't around in the last water bond election. It is modestly funded. Will these water conservation message have an influence on the bond?).
- Although we have a large snowpack, the DWR already is predicting that a large amount of runoff will be absorbed back into a very dry watershed even before it reaches rivers and other surface water sources that feed our state system. So, 140+ percent of snowpack won't translate into 140+ percent of water into the state system;
- The snowpack will be enough to give us a normal supply year, but not enough to refill our depleted reservoirs. (See "court restrictions" below);
- One good year does not end a drought. This is the case in the upper Colorado River watershed, which is still experiencing an extended drought in spite of two "above-average" years of rainfall, and;
- Although not part of the typical drought equation, court orders restricting water flows out of the Delta will limit supplies to cities and farms regardless of how much snow rests in the Sierras. Declaring a drought over with court orders still in place will create serious confusion in this important election year.
See you in Monterey and on the campaign trail.