01 Dec California needs water, not bullet trains: George Runner and Bob Huff
An electric sign reading “Serious Drought Help Save Water” was posted for eastbound drivers to read along the 210 Freeway near State Street exit in San Bernardino in February 2014. For the first time Caltrans posted a drought advisory statewide, which went up on more than 700 freeway signs, as a part of an educational campaign urging Californians to conserve water. (Photo by Rachel Luna / San Bernardino Sun)
Californians across the state recognize that the historic drought has changed the priorities of our state. Because of the drought, we’ve all been asked to do more with less and to make water conservation our No. 1 priority.
The good news is that Californians have responded. And despite being hit with higher water rates and food prices, people from every walk of life are finding new ways to save water. You probably know someone who has installed drought-tolerant landscaping to help with water conservation efforts.
The bad news is some lawmakers aren’t taking our state’s water crisis nearly as seriously. As a matter of fact, they continue to insist that building a not-so-fast train should take priority over having enough clean, certain and safe drinking water.
By pursuing the high-speed rail project at a time when Californians are sacrificing so much and getting so little in return, the government is proving it is out of touch. The High Speed Rail Authority’s own consultants predict that construction will cost taxpayers more than $71 billion.
Outside experts estimate the cost could be $93 billion or more.
That’s a far cry from their promises in 2008. We were told that the proposed $9.95 billion bond would attract significant investments from the federal government and private sector investors, and the trains would reach speeds on par with its European counterparts. Today, it looks like the rail project will instead run on 1960s technology.
All the promises made to voters have been broken and construction costs for the project are falling squarely on taxpayers. Even today, every time you fill your car with gas, you are being charged extra to help pay for this project.
We’ve submitted a ballot measure to the attorney general that would redirect the $8 billion left from voter-authorized high speed rail bond funds and $2.7 billion from prior water bonds to build new water storage projects and allow our cities to deal with storm water runoff. Our measure allows the people and water experts, not politicians, to set priorities.
While it wasted billions on bullet train bureaucracy, government neglected to secure our water future. That’s like having a neighbor who buys a Porsche, then complains he doesn’t have enough money to buy groceries.
Our measure makes drinking water and water to grow food the top priority, amending the California Constitution to put the water for people ahead of all other needs.
A few elites who can afford the luxury may benefit from high speed rail, but everyone, including our job creators, pays the price of inadequate water storage. Our state’s aging water infrastructure was built 50 years ago and since then our state’s population has doubled.
By 2030, California will add six million more people, but no one knows if they’ll have water to drink.
Securing adequate water supplies is an issue that touches every community, every race, every ethnic group and every political affiliation. With a vacuum in Sacramento, voters must take charge of our state’s priorities and chart a clear path to clean, reliable drinking water, while protecting our environment.
George Runner represents more than 9 million Californians in the First District of the State Board of Equalization. Sen. Bob Huff represents the 29th Senate District, covering portions of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties.