Water -- One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

by Senator Andy Vidak
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Published in the Kern County Valley Ag Voice – October 2014 Issue

In mid-August, the Legislature came together like never before when, on a near-unanimous vote, they agreed to place a $7.5 billion water bond on the November ballot. If approved by the voters, it will create two new reservoirs that will provide additional water storage for our state.

The new water bond, which replaced an $11.1 billion bond that was bloated with pork, is the result of all sides on the water issue working together towards a common goal.  That was an important step forward in creating a stable water supply for the state.  But just a few days later, we took two steps back.  

The interests of the Central Valley, a water-starved region that not only feeds this state, but much of the nation, was harmed when the Legislature passed a three-bill package that will limit our access to groundwater when California is in drought conditions.  The bill package was approved by urban and environmental legislators who ignored the needs of farmers, farmworkers and other rural water users.

We’ve seen time and again that a one-size-fits all approach doesn’t work. The water needs of this state are very diverse.  I have worked in many different areas of this state, including Salinas, Kings City, Ventura, San Joaquin and Tulare, and I can tell you that all of those groundwater basins are different and state bureaucrats will have no idea how to effectively manage them.

These measures are another step that takes away local control of our groundwater and will make it much more expensive to access water. The end result is certainly going to mean more farmers will not work their land during drought conditions and that, in turn, will cost farmworkers and others to lose their jobs in an area that already has shamefully high unemployment rates.

Instead of a statewide takeover of our property rights we should have empowered the local water agencies and counties to handle this issue.

I was particularly troubled that this legislation was written and passed within a couple of weeks with little debate. These new groundwater regulations saw no support from Central Valley legislators even though the Valley will be most affected by these restrictions and increased costs.

The state has mismanaged our water resources by not building adequate storage to capture it.  Had we made investments in surface storage years ago, we would have been able to move some surface water around to areas that desperately needed water.  That would have lessened the demand on groundwater pumping and helped recharge our groundwater basins.

Central Valley farmers are being forced to pay the price of these costly and restrictive groundwater regulations.  “What now?” we are saying.  The same folks that mismanaged the water and got us into the man-made drought are now going to regulate our groundwater.

Recently, I joined a group of 25 members of the legislature strongly urging Governor Brown to veto the groundwater legislation and call a special session of the Legislature in December to focus solely on developing reasonable groundwater management.   That would have been a wise step forward.  Unfortunately, the governor took the state two steps back when he signed the groundwater legislation.

Know that l will hawk-eye water-grabbing bureaucrats and will fight their efforts to tread on our private property and water rights.