Uncommitted water bond funds: Just how much is there?

moneyFrom 2000 to 2008, voters approved nearly $100 billion in general obligation bonds to fund the state’s infrastructure needs with about a quarter of that being approved for water infrastructure projects. However, not all of those bond funds have been spent, and there has been much speculation as to how much remains uncommitted and how those funds could possibly be used for near-term projects in the Delta or other water infrastructure needs. The total is now in:  according to data compiled by the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife, the amount of remaining uncommitted bond funds is over $1.2 billion.

Determining exactly how much remains uncommitted is not an easy calculation, and doesn’t necessarily mean the money is readily available for other purposes; the Assembly Committee’s webpage points out the difficulty in determining the exact amount of possible remaining funds:  “Reporting how much bond funding “remains” can be complex because bonds can be “authorized” by a Proposition but not yet appropriated by the Legislature to an agency. Or they can be appropriated to an Agency but not yet encumbered (designated) for a specific project. Or they can be encumbered, but all or part are not yet liquidated (sold to create actual cash). If a project does not go foward in a timely manner, unliquidated funds may revert back for the agency to reincumber or, depending on the timing, may revert back for the Legislature to reappropriate.”

The subject of uncommitted bond funds was discussed at a Joint Informational Hearing held before the Senate Governance and Finance and Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee in February of this year.  The legislators asked Mark Whitaker from the Legislative Analyst’s Office what could be done with authorized but unissued general bond funds?  Mr. Whitaker replied, “Most of the bonds that are authorized but unissued are subject to appropriation.  That said, a lot of these already been appropriated and allocated to specific projects and so they just have not been sold, but certainly the legislature and the governor could choose to remove the authority of some of these bonds.  I think those would largely be policy calls depending on the priorities that are set between the governor and the legislature …  but certainly there’s no guaranteed or requirement that the state sell these bonds that remain unissued.”

Mr. Whitaker was asked why the bonds haven’t been sold yet.  He answered: “The reason is largely because the projects they would fund are not ready to go.  Some departments have proceeds from previous bonds that they still have not spent as they have had trouble getting projects started; for example, high speed rail is obviously not ready to move forward and sell all these bonds.  At this point it’s not an issue of the state not being able to go to the bond market; it is that the locals aren’t ready to move forward on these projects.”

Below is a spreadsheet I made from the numbers available at the Assembly Committee’s website.  I did not include Department of Health funds, because by my read of their paperwork, they are reviewing projects and have enough submitted such that all of the funds that are uncommitted will be assigned to other projects.  Here is the latest data from the other remaining agencies:


Department of Water Resources
Amount Authorized Uncommitted  % uncommitted
Prop 81 (1988)  $        425,000,000  $              5,111,000 1%
Prop 25 (1984)               10,000,000                     368,000 4%
Prop 44 (1986)               75,000,000                14,483,000 19%
Prop 82 (1988)               60,000,000                     143,000 0%
Prop 204 (1996)            870,000,000                36,756,000 4%
Prop 13 (2000)         2,198,000,000             282,645,000 13%
Prop 50 (2002)            857,927,000                27,030,000 3%
Prop 84 (2006)         2,103,000,000             527,672,000 25%
Prop 1E (2006)         4,090,000,000             167,052,000 4%
 $   10,688,927,000  $     1,061,260,000
Department of Fish and Wildlife
Amount Authorized Uncommitted  % uncommitted
Prop 12 (2000)  $             1,500,000  $                 795,159 53%
Prop 13 (2000)                 3,564,952                  2,758,305 77%
Prop 50 (2002)            137,483,406                12,321,835 9%
Prop 84 (2006)            199,785,805                74,776,501 37%
Prop 204 (1996)               45,957,566                14,433,658 31%
 $        388,291,729  $         105,085,458
State Water Resources Control Board
Amount Authorized Uncommitted  % uncommitted
Prop 13 (2000)  $        648,450,000  $           42,021,476 6%
Prop 40 (2002)            166,250,000                  8,995,937 5%
Prop 50 (2002)            483,800,000                  3,119,152 1%
Prop 204 (1996)               26,850,000                11,925,198 44%
 $     1,325,350,000  $           66,061,763
Summary by Agency
DWR  $      1,061,260,000
DFW              105,085,458
SWRCB              66,061,763
Total:  $     1,232,407,221
Summary by Proposition
Proposition  Year Passed Uncommitted
Prop 81 1988  $        5,111,000.00
Prop 25 1984               368,000.00
Prop 44 1986          14,483,000.00
Prop 82 1988               143,000.00
Prop 204 1996          63,114,856.00
Prop 12 2000               795,159.00
Prop 13 2000        327,424,781.00
Prop 40 2002            8,995,937.00
Prop 50 2002          42,470,987.00
Prop 1E 2006        167,052,000.00
Prop 84 2006        602,448,501.00

The State Water Board recently encumbered funds under Proposition 84, and opened a solicitation for the remaining funds.  Also even though some bond funds remain uncommitted that were approved prior to 2000, it doesn’t necessarily mean that projects are dead.  Here is a request from the NCWA for some of the Proposition 204 funds made to the State Water Board in May.


  • For the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife’s page on uncommitted bond funds (and the sources for the data in the above table), click here.
  • To review the minutes from the joint informational hearing entitled “Overview of California’s Debt Condition: Priming the Pump for a Water Bond,” click here.
  • For the Legislative Analyst’s Office report, Funding Principles for Building a Water Bond, click here.


3 Responses

  1. Phil Isenberg


    Another interesting report, but I have a question. Your chart shows ‘authorized’ and ‘uncommitted’ bond funds for three state agencies. OK, but the narrative you include from the Assembly WP&W Committee uses the description “…incumbered (designated)…”, not ‘uncommitted’. Is ‘uncommitted’ the same as ‘incumbered (designated)’ or something else?

    Whatever term you use, does it describe a formal, legal and binding commitment of those funds, or something less clear?

    Phil Isenberg

  2. Maven

    Hi Phil,

    For my chart, I used the term ‘uncommitted’ because all of the spreadsheets except DWR’s used that terminology. As for the terminology on the Committee’s website, I referred your question to Tina Leahy, who kindly replied, noting that she did say it was complicated:

    (Tina’s response): “Encumbered is definitely “committed,” but “committed” isn’t necessarily “encumbered.” The reason I say that is, for example, funds can be “committed” to a pot of money for a continuous solicitation but until specific projects are identified and contracts are entered into under that solicitation, I don’t view the funds as technically encumbered.”


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