We represent the San Joaquin Valley, one of the most productive farming regions in the country. Agriculture is a major reason why California is now the world’s eighth largest economy. But the Legislature recently passed legislation that puts our ag economy and local jobs at risk.
We joined together as Democrats and Republicans to oppose recent groundwater legislation. These bills represent the first major rewrite of California’s water laws since 1913, but they fail to take the concerns of farm owners and workers, businesses, families, and entire communities into account.
For example, the bills undermine local control by placing costly mandates on local users. The bills give the State Water Board discretion to take over areas where there are no significant problems with groundwater overdraft. They also contain multiple provisions that will afford future opportunities to file lawsuits or petitions with the Water Board to restrict already limited water supplies for farming.
In addition, the legislation authorizes government agencies to charge fees to cover the costs of producing groundwater management plans. Given the bill’s broad scope, these fees could run into the billions of dollars, money that could be better spent elsewhere or never taken from taxpayers in the first place.
The legislation also ignores the fact that communities that have zero surface water allocation, and communities that are facing increased diversions from the State Water Board, have no choice but to turn to groundwater for even their most basic water needs. The bills do not provide any solutions for them, yet could take away their rights to groundwater – their only remaining supply of water.
While we clearly have many policy concerns with the bills, we are especially troubled by the fact that they were rushed through the legislative process with little time for thoughtful debate.
Consider that the comprehensive water bond that the voters will be asked to vote on this November took nearly 10 years to negotiate. The bond was the result of a series of countless public meetings and negotiations from all stakeholders. It was a painstakingly long process, but it enabled the Legislature and the Governor to come to a consensus that we could all support. It is a testament to that process that almost every lawmaker from every region of the state voted to place the bond on the ballot.
In contrast, the groundwater legislation was crafted and rushed through with little public debate. We saw none of the cooperation between Valley and non-Valley representatives that we saw with the water bond. As groundwater comprises almost half of California’s water supply, major changes affecting a critical water source should not be made under such hasty circumstances.
Make no mistake; we agree that something needs to be done to ensure there are sustainable groundwater supplies for future generations. We are all too aware that the drought has further depleted groundwater basins – especially those in the Valley – to dangerous levels and are in need of proper monitoring and management. But rushing through a vast rewrite of groundwater law during the waning days of the 2013-14 legislative session is not the right answer.
If the state is truly interested in preventing groundwater depletion, it would recognize groundwater recharge as a beneficial use and would provide incentives to develop regional groundwater plans and projects. The state must also streamline the legal process regarding water disputes to ensure fairness for all sides. The bills on the Governor’s desk do not accomplish this.
On a critical issue that will reverberate for generations, California deserves a more balanced groundwater solution that will ensure adequate water for families and businesses, now and in the future.
Assemblymember Frank Bigelow
Assemblymember Connie Conway
Assemblymember Susan Eggman
Assemblymember Adam Gray
Assemblymember Shannon Grove
Assemblymember Kristin Olsen
Assemblymember Jim Patterson
Assemblymember Henry Perea
Assemblymember Rudy Salas
Senator Tom Berryhill
Senator Anthony Cannella
Senator Jean Fuller
Senator Andy Vidak