Three groundwater regulation bills passed by the California Legislature are predicted to have a number of consequences for family farmers, ranchers, and other landowners and their passage provoked strong opposition from both Democrat and Republican legislators representing the Central Valley.
The bills in question are Assembly Bill 1739, Senate Bill 1168, and Senate Bill 1319—three bills that California Farm Bureau Federation, an agency that supports family farms and ranches, said were rushed.
“The Legislature took the ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach, rushing these bills through and creating a massive new regulatory program in the final days of the legislative session,” said CFBF President Paul Wegner.
AB 1739 will remedy mismanaged groundwater basins in hopes of preventing long-term environmental and economical damage from over extraction. The legislation will identify high and medium risk overdraft basins and require them to create a plan that would return them to a sustainable position.
SB 1168 will authorize the State Water Resources Control Board to manage groundwater under certain conditions and will establish statutory framework for a new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which will require that all groundwater basins and subbasins be managed sustainably by local entities that follow the adopted groundwater management plan.
Contingent on the passage of the two aforementioned bills, SB 1319 will prohibit the SWRCB from establishing an interim plan that focuses on groundwater depletion without considering the resulting effects on surface water levels. The bill will also exclude any district within a probationary basin that complies with groundwater management requirements.
The bill would also require the SWRCB to consider any element of a local groundwater sustainability plan that helps the interim plan meet its sustainability goals.
“These bills would allow for groundwater to be monopolized to the detriment of urban water users and farmers—including people who have not created an overdraft problem but who could need access to groundwater in the future,” said Wegner. “The same agencies that have been hamstrung by conflicting missions and statutory mandates—including environmental restrictions of questionable value—will now control all water decisions.”
Wegner also added that these bills would create requirements that will lead to confusion and litigation for those involved.
Assembly Republican Leader-Elect Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) agreed with Wegner, calling for a better thought out solution.
“These groundwater bills are the most significant bills to pass the Legislature since water rights were first established in 1913—and yet they were negotiated, written and narrowly passed in just a few weeks,” said Olsen. “If the State is truly interested in preventing depletion, it should provide incentives for local jurisdictions to develop regional groundwater plans and to implement innovative solutions that will protect and replenish our aquifers and groundwater basins.”
Now that the bills have passed California Legislature, they will either be signed into law or vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown. Olsen urged the governor to veto the bills in order to give local legislators more time to decide how to best safeguard groundwater resources.
“I urge the Governor to veto these measures and call a special session so that my colleagues and I can address this critical issues in a more comprehensive, solutions-oriented manner that will benefit all regions of California,” said Olsen.
On behalf of CFBF, Wegner echoed Olsen’s sentiments for the bill’s veto by offering a solution to reduce California’s demands on groundwater reserves.
“True resolution to California groundwater problems will come through measures that this legislation does not address, such as a streamlined adjudication process and the recognition of groundwater recharge as a beneficial use of water,” Wegner concluded. “All the fees and fines in the world won’t heal our aquifers unless California builds additional storage and improves management of surface water in order to reduce demand on groundwater.”