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Keep everyone at the water rights table, fix SB1
Josh harder
Congressman Josh Harder

Ben Franklin famously said, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” If California had been one of the original colonies, Ben could’ve added to the list “California water wars.”

For decades, people in Sacramento have believed the way to fix water problems is by taking it from someone. They’ve pitted farmers against fish and cities against rural water users. All of this fighting has left our Central Valley farmers and families without the water they need while millions of gallons of our water flows out to the ocean or down to Southern California.

The obvious way to fix this age-old problem is getting everyone to the table to find a workable agreement. That’s why I am such a big supporter of “voluntary settlement agreements,” or so-called VSAs, to bring everyone together to work through the sticking points of a water management plan for our state. The VSAs are the lynchpin of a water plan that works for the Valley   suppling water to our farms and families while also protecting our environment.  The negotiations give our local farmers and the other folks in the discussion the flexibility they need to find a way forward.

But the state government is poised to pass a law called SB1 that would risk all of the progress we’ve made. And set us back decades.

That’s why I’ve joined with other Central Valley officials to tell Governor Newsom to fix the problems in this bill before it’s made into law.

The bill would force the state to use old scientific data and prevent the negotiators in the settlement process from having the flexibility they need to find a deal. The bill could also lead to drawn-out court fights over whether federal projects like the Central Valley Project (CVP) have to live by state rules rather than federal rules.

Our Central Valley communities can’t wait for years of court fighting, we need real change, now.

Don't get me wrong, there are lots of good things in SB1, including protections for the men and women of labor and it shares our commitment to ensuring clean air and clean water. But we have to see changes in it to support our farmers for it to move forward. Governor Newsom has to push the California Senate to work out these problems.

I know these changes may delay the bill by a few weeks, but that would be nothing compared to the time it would take for it be fought out in court.

Anything that could jeopardize the progress that’s been made on voluntary settlements is the wrong way forward. The folks in Sacramento need to slow down, get this right, and do everything possible to protect the negotiation process by amending the bill.

The way to fix water politics is to find projects and strategies that actually have a chance of moving and then aggressively pushing them forward. That philosophy informed my SAVE Water Resources Act, which would grow and secure the Central Valley water supply. And it’s the basis of this negotiation process.

Fixing the bill would be first step in ensuring that fighting over water is less certain than death and taxes. Maybe Ben Franklin was actually right all along.