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Water Fares Well on the Ballot in 2019 Elections

Scott Berry, Director of Policy and Government Affairs, US Water Alliance | November 22, 2019

After the election on November 5, most of the headlines focused on the Democratic upset in the Kentucky Governor’s race and Virginia creating the first Democratic trifecta in nearly 30 years. Water had a quieter but still very successful election cycle as well. Questions about funding and policy regarding state and local water infrastructure are often put to the voters in the form of ballot initiatives and bond measures, and we’re is proud to report a 100 percent success rate for water on such measures this year!

The people of Colorado, Texas, New Orleans, and Portland, Oregon had the chance to vote on water this election. At the state level, Coloradans had a chance to determine if sports betting should be legalized in the state, with the majority of the betting revenue to support the state’s water plan. While money from betting will not entirely fund the water plan - much of that funding is identified elsewhere in existing resources - the new funds would help close the funding gap that still exists. This Proposition DD on the ballot passed 51 to 49 percent, in the tightest result this cycle on a water-related issue.

In Texas, Proposition 2 expands the state’s Economically Distressed Areas Program for water infrastructure by reinfusing it with up to $200 million in bonds. This measure passed easily, 66 to 34 percent. Also in Texas, Proposition 8 asks voters to authorize a state flood prevent and recovery fund and seed it with nearly $800 million from the state’s economic stabilization fund. With Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda fresh in mind, voters also overwhelmingly approved of this ballot measure, 78 to 22 percent.

On the local side, the city of Portland, OR considered whether to add additional protections to one of its key watersheds. The Bull Run watershed, which provides municipal drinking water to the city, already has source water protection measures in place that restrict public access, logging, development, and certain other land use activities. However, those measures could have, in theory, been altered by the City Council. Measure 23-204 adds these protections directly to the city charter, which can only be changed or removed by public vote. It passed by the widest margin this cycle for a water measure, 89 to 11 percent. A number of counties in the Portland metro area also considered whether to authorize $475 million in bonds for water and park maintenance projects. This Measure 26-203 also easily passed 71 to 29 percent.

Louisiana holds its elections on a Saturday a few weeks after the other states on November 16th. The city of New Orleans considered whether to issue $500 million in bonds for infrastructure improvements, public buildings, affordable housing, and parks. Updating stormwater drainage and management infrastructure is a significant component of this bond. The measure passed overwhelmingly 66 to 34 percent.

While 2019 is considered an “off-off year”, meaning neither a presidential election year nor a midterm election year, it is heartening to see the public taking water infrastructure issues seriously and, largely, pass measures with strong support.