Don’t be confused about a ballot initiative titled: High-Speed Rail. No Issuance or Sale of Future Bonds. Suspension of Project. Initiative Statute. On its face, it appears that bond funds for high-speed rail would be redirected to build more water storage. Underneath the surface it rewrites water rights.
Commonly known as the Dam–Train initiative, it was developed by a small group of San Joaquin Valley farmers without consulting others in agriculture, without the benefit of any polling and certainly without rigorous review by water rights attorneys.
If passed, the initiative will rewrite water rights in the constitution, allocating water first to urban uses followed by agriculture and then the environment. Most importantly, counsel for Sacramento Valley water districts believes it may eliminate the right to compensation if the state takes water for other needs. Water used for winter flooding would also come under question. Is it agriculture or environmental use?
Don’t believe the rhetoric, this bill faces a huge uphill battle. While the proponents note the majority of Californians support their effort, professionals know otherwise. While support for the premise of moving high-speed rail bonds to build more water storage did poll 53 percent positive, this is far from the 60-65 percent support most consider essential in order to weather a certain campaign against the initiative by the environmental community and displeasure from the administration.
Unfortunately, even in failure it would have negative impacts. Every year, and certainly in this current drought, there are real efforts to change the California water rights system. Our advocates believe that if the initiative fails it will be seen as a referendum on water use in agriculture. At a minimum, the initiative will be seen as an effort by of all agriculture to strip water from the environment for our own use rather than the special interest of a few.
This initiative is opposed by the Northern California Water Association. Just last week the NCWA Board voted unanimously to oppose the Dam–Train initiative even before signature gathering started.
We will keep you updated on the initiative and apprised of efforts to ensure that this initiative is not successful.