Sept. 22, 2017 – – On August 21st, legislators returned to Sacramento for the final push to the September 15th deadline.  This session, the legislature wrestled with many contentious issues including the passage of the largest infrastructure and tax package in the State’s history, advancing landmark Cap and Trade legislation, implementing a diverse housing package, passing a Parks Bond and grappled with state-sponsored single payer health care.

The year started with legislators introducing 2980 total bills, 1982 in the Assembly and 998 in the Senate.  So far this year, 544 bills have become law – many of those budget related bills and trailer bills.  On the Governor’s desk sit 750 bills ready for action.   Over the next few weeks, we will examine legislation important to the association members.  The first week’s article is about water legislation.

This legislative session has made water a priority.  Long term water conservation, paying for clean drinking water and water rights enforcement have all been leading topics of discussion in the legislature.  While it was a major topic, only a few bills made it through the legislative process for consideration by the Governor.

In a last minute maneuver, AB 313 (Adam Gray) that would establish a Division of Water Rights within the Office of Administrative Hearings, was pushed to the Senate and Assembly Floors. The bill provides that complaints against persons violating provisions of their water diversions would be heard by an administrative law judge in OAH; however, decisions would not be final until accepted by the State Water Resources Control Board. The argument is that the current structure allows the State water Resources Control board to be investigator, judge, jury and prosecutor.  The measure passed both houses and was sent to the governor for his signature.

SB 252 (Bill Dodd) would require new water well permit applicants in critically overdrafted groundwater basins to provide their application information to neighbors. It would require cities and counties overlying critically overdrafted basins to publicly notice new well permit applications and require these cities and counties to make specific new well permit information available to groundwater sustainability agencies. The Alliance worked hard in opposition to this bill in its original state and the bill continued to get amended until it was in its current form only requiring notice of new well permits, providing the opportunity for the ag coalition members to go neutral.  The measure passed both houses and was sent to the governor for his signature.

Parks/Water Bond SB 5

In the final hours of this year’s legislative session, the Legislature took action to protect and restore California’s state and local parks; coastal, forest, and other natural resources; and water quality and supply by passing SB 5 (de León) The California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access For All Act of 2018 – a $4 billion resource bond.

Funding provisions in SB 5:

Senator de León’s bill allocates $2.83 billion in funding for parks and natural resources projects including over $1 billion to local parks throughout the state with the majority going to fund new parks in neighborhoods that are park poor.

SB 5 invests in improving California’s resilience to climate change. It includes a broad portfolio of investments that address the challenges to protecting our coastal resources and maintaining healthy natural systems that provide clean air and water.  The measure also allocates $1.27 billion in funding for water related investments including safe drinking water projects, groundwater cleanup and management as well as funding to better protect California communities from the twin threats of drought and flood.

SB 623 (Bill Monning) would establish the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund and ensure that monies in the fund are continuously appropriated to the State Water Resources Control Board, to provide emergency, interim and long-term assistance to community water systems where wells exceed the maximum contaminant levels for arsenic, hexavalent chromium, lead, manganese, MTBE, nitrate and perchlorate. The measure remained in the Assembly Rules Committee and failed to make it to the Assembly floor for a vote. The measure is now a two-year bill.

In anticipation of SB 623 not moving forward this year, AB 747 (Anna Caballero) was amended late last week, authorizing Monterey County, by ordinance, to impose a tax or assessment on the commercial application of fertilizers containing nitrogen within the county. The tax or assessment would fund a short-term program providing replacement drinking water where the maximum containment level exceeds the drinking water standard for nitrate. AB 747 remained in the Senate Rules Committee and failed to make it to the Senate floor for a vote.

The long term water conservation legislation was a topic of debate and discussion all year long.  In August, the authors revealed a final “structure” that became the foundation for the bills.  They continued to be amended well into September.  AB 1668 (Friedman) and SB 606 (Hertzberg/Skinner/Friedman) both became two-year bills when they were held in the Legislature on Sept. 15.  Water agencies split with Met and East Bay MUD supporting, but many individual districts that provide retail water opposed.  This allowed ACWA to also remain opposed.