Published in the Kern County Valley Ag Voice – February 2015 Issue
When it comes to ensuring a long-term water supply for California, there is no question that the Legislature and the voters took a big step forward last year by approving a $7 billion bond measure, which will help build a much needed water supply infrastructure to serve the needs of 38 million Californians. The investment was long overdue and I was proud to be able to co-author the final bipartisan bond package.
But in terms of water policy, what the Legislature giveth, the Legislature can taketh away. And that is exactly what we saw with the package of groundwater regulation bills that will fundamentally alter individual groundwater rights in California forever.
With the groundwater regulation legislation approved late last year, the state has established a requirement for local agencies to further manage groundwater extraction and has provided these local agencies with broad new authority to do so. These new powers include the authority to require well registration and mandatory water meter installation of pumps. It would allow local agencies to place limitations and restrictions on groundwater extraction and provides authority for local officials to inspect, with consent or a warrant if necessary, the property or pump of any individual to ensure compliance with the restrictions. It would also allow local agencies to charge fees for the extraction of groundwater.
Here’s the real kicker….if the local agencies fail to formulate a plan that includes these restrictions and/or fail to maintain a “sustainable” groundwater supply, the state would be required to take over the basin and manage it for the local agencies.
This state authority represents the single biggest change in California’s water policy in the last 100 years and was something that I vehemently opposed on the Floor of the Senate last year. Unfortunately, the final package of bills was put together without the usual committee hearings that would have given the public an opportunity to provide input on the policy.
There is no question that our groundwater resource is something to protect and groundwater is not restricted to political or property boundaries. But instead of providing growers and others with a reliable supply of surface water, the state and federal regulators drastically cut off or restricted surface water deliveries and left many with no choice but to pump their groundwater to keep their crops alive.
Be assured that I am keeping a very close watch over the implementation of this new legislation, which is nothing more than a water-grab by the state.