As the drought continued to scorch California, regulatory actions such as mandatory conservation measures took center stage, lessening the number of water bills introduced this year.
Even then, five significant water bills confronted the business community. Two were supported by the California Chamber of Commerce and sent to the Governor; three the CalChamber was able to stop.
Major Water Bills Move
CalChamber-supported AB 1390 (Alejo; D-Salinas) and SB 226 (Pavley; D-Agoura Hills), legislatively joined bills, are likely the most important water bills to pass this session. The need for the bills arose from the far-reaching Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which passed last year and begins to regulate groundwater in California.
Groundwater management is necessary to prevent chronic over drafting that leads to collapsing basins and permanent loss of underground storage. Diminishing surface supplies forced more groundwater pumping by well owners like local water districts, private domestic wells and farmers.
In the future, when the SGMA is fully implemented, the amount of water pumped will be limited by the amount needed to sustain the basin.
AB 1390 is a process and procedural bill that adds a chapter to the Code of Civil Procedure to improve the judicial proceedings in comprehensive adjudications of groundwater rights in a basin.
SB 226 addresses policy changes to ensure intersection between SGMA and the courts. It also will guide the courts when adjudicating high- and medium-priority basins without changing SGMA policy or existing water rights.
It is important to clarify and streamline the adjudication process so it works better with the SGMA. Under current law, the adjudicatory process is complex, taking years to settle, but for the SGMA to work well, the adjudication process needs to work quicker and yet still be thorough.
It is expected that there will be more requests for adjudications in the future to determine water rights in some of the more critical basins.
Opposition Stops Bad Bills
The CalChamber was able to stop other water bills that created a myriad of problems for the business community. Those bills proposed to increase the excise tax on water use, publicized a business’ water and energy use, and required the labeling of agricultural products irrigated with wastewater from oil fields.
• Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) gutted and amended his SB 789 early in June to authorize local public entities to impose an excise tax of up to 300% on an excessive use of water. The proposal generated a firestorm of opposition.
A CalChamber-led coalition stopped the bill in its first committee in spite of late amendments offered by the author to lessen the tax.
• Later in the session, AB 1520 (Committee on Judiciary) was amended to inappropriately publicize industrial, institutional and commercial energy and water usage. The bill was an attempt to shame business under the guise of ensuring that large users were meeting conservation goals.
Without knowing how an industry uses water or energy and the regulatory requirements the businesses operate under, the volume of usage is not useful and publicizing the use serves no purpose other than to exploit a business’ operation.
Again, a CalChamber-led coalition was able to stop the bill at its first hearing.
• A final bad bill that the CalChamber was instrumental in stopping, ABX2 14 (Gatto; D-Glendale), was based on the mistaken assumption that wastewater from an oil field is contaminated and thus any food crop irrigated with it must be labeled to identify the water’s origin.
Produced water from an oil field is treated extensively, meets state water quality standards and requires a permit from a regional water board. The cleaning of the oil field wastewater is one of the success stories for reuse of a scarce resource, water.
Strong opposition from the business and agricultural communities resulted in ABX2 14 never being set for hearing.