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Candidates talk new water fines, state control of resources at public forum
Candidates answer audience questions at a public forum held at California State University, Stanislaus on Wednesday. Candidates included Dr. Harinder Grewal, a Democrat running for the 12th Assembly District seat, Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto), State Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres, speaking) and Shawn Bagley, a Democrat running in the Senate District 12 race. - photo by CANDY PADILLA/The Journal

Water resources and the best way to manage them brought out the most impassioned responses from local State Assembly and Senate candidates at a debate held at California State University, Stanislaus on Wednesday.

The water talks began with the most recent decision of the State Water Resources Control Board to allow local law enforcement and water agencies to impose a maximum $500 a day fine on water wasters.

Both Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) were adamantly opposed to the fines, on the grounds that they would hurt an already poverty-stricken area and in regards to the State interference with local water issues.

"I think the State Water Resources Control Board is out of control. This is the latest of many things they've adopted this year that are nothing more, in my opinion, than a power grab trying to insert state control over local resources when it comes to water," said Olsen.

"I think the better alternative would be to empower local communities to develop best practices on ways we can manage water, recycle water. The City of Modesto has had water conservation policies and ordinances and fines associated with them for years. They are working quite well, we don't need state interference on this issue," she added.

Shawn Bagley, a Salinas produce broker and Democrat activist who is running against Cannella in the Senate District 12 race, said he thought the fines were "practical" however he was concerned about the "neighbor on neighbor, 'hey you washed your car, hey you cleaned off your pavement'" that the fines would encourage.

Turlock Unified School District Trustee Dr. Harinder Grewal, a Democrat running against Olsen for the 12th Assembly District seat, said he supports the fines because as a Senior Agricultural Weights and Measures Inspector with the Stanislaus County Department of Agriculture, he understands that regulations and enforcement of those regulations are sometimes needed to make sure everyone complies with what's best for the state and country overall.

"I am in favor of regulations...It's not for one, it's for all and we must comply with that," said Grewal. "Sometimes regulations are the way to implement [policies]."

After tackling the water fines issue, candidates were asked to give their opinions on state control of well drilling.

Again, Cannella and Olsen were against state control of what has historically been a local jurisdiction.

"I do believe we've got to have some controls...but I think that should happen at the local level. There's lots of ways to do it — grant funding can be withheld unless local jurisdiction have some groundwater policies in place... I do believe something has to be done, but being done by the state is not the right thing because the state looks at everything as a one size fits all and I think they've shown over, and over, and over again that when it's one size fits all we lose," said Cannella.

Grewal said there needs to be a plan in place, but with local control.

Bagley was the lone voice in support of state control of well drilling. He said that groundwater has to be considered a shared resource. Bagley noted the 400 water districts in the state and said he was afraid it was turning into a competition between all the stakeholders, "how far can you go?"

"Local control should certainly play a part in it, but I think we all — as leaders in Sacramento — should bring all the stakeholders together, that's our goal," he added.

The last water issue brought up something that has been consistently shot down in the legislature — making well drilling laws public knowledge.

Both Grewal and Bagley were in support of having well drilling information public so that everyone could take part in the discussion on what's really happening to the state's groundwater resources.

"The best thing is to have data available to everyone; it helps to plan...It's critical to have that data available to all of us, that way we know where we stand when it comes to groundwater," said Grewal.

"It will help everyone, all of us, to make a better plan so we don't run out of water."

Olsen and Cannella were against making the well drilling information public due to the potential terrorist threats on local water supplies.

The candidates also answered audience questions on bringing back redevelopment agencies, their positions on the Common Core Standards for schools, gun control laws, fracking, the costs of state funded higher education, and California's high speed rail project, among others.