Another Schwarzenegger Idea Runs Dry


Proposition 18, a ballot initiative that would have put California taxpayers on the hook for an additional $11 billion in water bonds, has been withdrawn by the state legislature.

This effectively ends another of the many dreams Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pursued during his tenure. The Gubernator came into office with bold visions for permanently ending the state's water crisis, and he has returned to this theme through both his terms. The California Water Plan 2005 Update, for example, envisioned a strategic realignment of water practices stretching through 2030, large investments in storage, plans for desalination and other ambitious projects. Post-Hurricane Katrina attention on the poor state of Central Valley levees helped boost the governor's plans for an upgrade, and Schwarzenegger has proposed grand and controversial projects such as a peripheral canal for the Sacramento Delta.

In 2006 California voters approved more than $5 billion in new flood control and water bonds. These funds ended up leaking into unrelated projects or getting absorbed into operating costs. Californians have a long history of largesse with respect to water projects, yet the money always ends up evaporating. As of right now, there has been no upgrade to the levees, the 2030 plan remains a pipe dream, and essentially none of the governor's water plans have come to pass.

Now Prop. 18 supporters have opted to remove the initiative from the ballot and bring it back in 2012—when, they hope, the state will not be facing a nearly $20 billion deficit and voters will be feeling more expansive. There's reason to doubt that, but even if it passed in two years, the initiative would be far short of Schwarzenegger's plan and take effect long after he has left office.

It was probably a bad idea, in a state whose water supply depends directly on mountain runoff, to appoint a man named Les Snow as director of Water Resources. But the water problem is vast and complicated, involving resource and rights questions, Colorado River water sharing arrangements with other states and Mexico, and the hard fact that much of the state is a desert. Some of the heat has gone out of this issue thanks to slowing population growth and a few decent years of rainfall. But this has been another matter in which Schwarzenegger was doing all the things that voters supposedly wanted—thinking big, planning for the long term, using his magnetic leadership to solve complex, longstanding problems. And yet in the end nothing came of it.