With Election Day upon us, are you getting voter fatigue? If so, you are not alone. In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted between October 28th and November 1st, one question asked, “Has the 2016 campaign made you feel more excited, disgusted, or neither?” An overwhelming 82% of respondents said that the 2016 campaign cycle made them feel more “disgusted,” with only 13% saying the election made them feel more “excited.” Also, the poll is telling because only 3% were undecided by answering “neither.” Regardless of your political affiliation, this has been a long and divisive campaign cycle. We have witnessed much drama at the top of the ticket, from Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” to the multiple FBI reviews of Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server. These issues as well as the in-fighting within the Republican Party which escalated when House Speaker Paul Ryan told fellow House Republicans in early October that he would spend the last month before the election “focused entirely on protecting our congressional majorities” have distracted the American public from some of the real challenges that our nation faces.
While the election drama at the top of the ticket has dominated the headlines for the last few months, there are still some very important measures and issues on the ballot that will have a direct effect on water policy. Here in California, the outcome of ballot measures such as Proposition 53 could play a big role in the outcome of Governor Brown’s Delta tunnels project. In this post, I will highlight a national and California election issue, and how the outcome of the election could affect water policy going into 2017.
Climate Change and Battleground States in the Colorado River Basin
With the way our Electoral College is set up, states that have closely-contested elections could dramatically change the outcome of the election. A few of these “battleground” states are in the Colorado River Basin, including Colorado, Nevada and Arizona. According to Politico’s poll-of-poll averages, Hillary Clinton holds a 4-point lead in Colorado and a 2-point lead in Nevada. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds Donald Trump up by 5 points in Arizona. All of these states currently have very close races and could change on Election Day. While the issue has not made huge headlines in recent months, both candidates have very different views on climate change. However, considering that Lake Mead sits at a critically low level, addressing climate change and its effect water policy will continue to be very important for the millions of people in the Colorado River Basin that rely on the river.
Regardless of to what extent humans have caused climate change, the fact is that climate change is having a significant effect on water supplies and drought, particularly in the Southwest. Last month, the Colorado River Research Group published a study regarding the effects of climate change on the Colorado River Basin. While the study argues that precipitation will be a wildcard, it is likely that the climate in the Southwest will be dryer and hotter – the study’s scientists suggest that the region will be on average 5 degrees hotter by 2050. Further, they argue that the 9% decrease in stream flow that the US Bureau of Reclamation projects by 2060 may be too optimistic. Stream flows so far in the 21st century are down 15% compared to the 20th century. While it may not be the top priority for either candidate when he or she arrives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January, it is something that they will have to address in the future.
So where does each candidate stand on climate change? As with most of their politics, Trump and Clinton disagree on the cause and effects of climate change on our planet. Hillary Clinton believes that climate change represents a threat to our environment as well as our national security and economic revitalization. According to her campaign website, she will follow President Obama’s pledge at the Paris Climate Conference to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30% relative to 2005 levels and “put the country on a path to cut emissions by more than 80 percent by 2050.” She plans to reach this goal by reducing America’s oil consumption by one-third and generating enough renewable energy to power all US homes within ten years of her taking office.
Donald Trump’s record on climate change is a bit more mercurial, but he does not believe nearly as strongly as Hillary Clinton that climate change presents a challenge to the United States or the world. In November 2012, Trump tweeted that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” However, on campaign stops in California this summer, he was more concrete on what he would do in his opinion to help solve the drought. He blamed environmental protections on the Delta smelt for the decreased water deliveries to the Central Valley and Southern California during the drought. At a rally in Fresno on May 27, Trump said (in relation to California’s drought), “We’re going to solve your water problem. You have a water problem that is so insane. It is so ridiculous where they’re taking water and shoving it out to sea. If I win, believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water so that you can have your farmers survive.”
Clearly the two candidates have differences of opinion on the cause of climate change and how to address these issues. Voters particularly in swing states where climate change will affect their daily lives should be aware of the issues and how the candidates will address these issues. In my opinion, addressing the effects of climate change will require the efforts of not only the United States but also from other major emitters such as China and India to reverse climate change’s effects substantially. It is my hope that whichever candidate wins the presidency will address these issues head-on and work collaboratively both at the national and international level to combat the effects of climate change and its effects on our water supply across the United States.
California Proposition 53: Another Roadblock to the Delta Tunnels?
In California, the Delta tunnels referred to as the California Water Fix face a number of challenges to complete. A series of lawsuits including a 2013 suit from the Aqua Alliance has slowed the environmental review of the project. This spring, the Metropolitan Water District purchased a series of islands in the Delta for $175 million, some of which are directly in the path of the proposed tunnels. The land purchase raised alarms among environmental groups and water users in Northern California arguing that this is just another “water grab” for urban users in Southern California. Despite these challenges, Governor Brown has continued to push for the tunnels. However, Proposition 53 on California’s ballot may add another challenge to the tunnel’s approvals if it passes.
California Proposition 53, if passed, would require voter approval before infrastructure-related revenue bonds totaling $2 billion or more could be issued. Revenue bonds take revenues from a fee or charge on the users to pay for infrastructure improvements. For example, revenue bonds could fund the construction of a new highway provided that the highway collects a toll for those driving on it. Currently, revenue bonds do not need voter approval to be issued.
Proposition 53 could affect the efficacy of the Delta tunnels because Governor Brown plans to fund some of the improvements through revenue bonds. Water districts that would benefit from the Delta tunnels would pay fees to finance the debt incurred for the tunnels’ construction. With an approximately $17 billion price tag, it is very likely that California would have to issue more than $2 billion of revenue bonds to fund the project. Proponents of the Delta Fix worry that Californians may not approve the bonds if they are subject to a statewide vote. Its passage could have a direct effect on the outcome of the Delta tunnels.
On Friday, bonds rating agency Fitch issued a statement saying that the approval of Proposition 53 could “slow or prevent” the implementation of the California Water Fix. Governor Brown has been campaigning across the state to help defeat Proposition 53, including a speech in San Francisco on Friday. He argues that Proposition 53 will take away local control of infrastructure projects, requiring a statewide vote for projects above $2 billion, even if local agencies plan to fund the project. Supporters of the measure argue that the citizens should have a say before the state issues debt for expensive and sometimes controversial infrastructure projects. They further argue that the need for voter approval will encourage fiscal accountability by ensuring that Californians approve large infrastructure projects before debt is issued.
Regardless of your opinion on climate change or the need for new water infrastructure projects here in California, there is one thing that people from all political parties can agree on: Your voice and vote are essential to shaping the future of our country and driving policy direction in the new administration. I hope that you get out and make your voice heard on November 8th!