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Viewpoints: Governor should veto groundwater policy

Californians – especially those in Northern California – are doing their part during this drought, from shortening their showers to reducing lawn watering and eliminating car washes. The majority of the water that Californians use traditionally comes from surface water sources like rivers and reservoirs.

Farmers, however, have been cut off.

Earlier this year, the State Water Resources Control Board restricted rights to surface water. As a result, farmers have had to rely more on their groundwater. Many have taken loans for thousands of dollars to hire contractors to drill wells in order to maintain their crops and livestock, and earn a living.

Now, the state wants to force local agencies to manage groundwater and provide them with enforcement powers to meter and regulate the use of groundwater. And, if the locals cannot accomplish this or refuse to, the state will take over.

In the last month, Assembly Bill 1739, Senate Bill 1168 and Senate Bill 1319 were put together in the back rooms of the Capitol. These bills were continually amended and tweaked up until the final moments of passage in the late hours of the legislative session. Together, these bills undermine more than 100 years of water law, precedent and trust. They now sit on the governor’s desk awaiting his action.

The legislation links surface water to groundwater, subjecting both to the draconian authority of the water board. It refers to “significant depletions of interconnected surface waters” and links these to overdrafts.

Interestingly, this legislation exempts Los Angeles, its watershed and the south coast. Los Angeles lawmakers are quick to exclude the groundwater that serves their citizens, while taking away our water rights.

The governor’s Water Action Plan states that it would “ensure no groundwater basin is in danger of being permanently damaged by over drafting.” This is not a real concern in the Sacramento Valley, where local groundwater management plans have been developed for the entire region and the basins are not in a state of critical overdraft, as confirmed by the Department of Water Resources.

Yet, this legislation would allow the water board to impose its subjective authority over our region, with or without our consent, and determine that groundwater withdrawals are having an “undesirable” impact on surface water. They can then use that finding to circumvent local control.

No government agency should be granted the power to come onto your property and stop you from using your water. This is no different than officials from the Air Resources Board coming to your garage and installing a boot on your car to prevent you from driving to work on a Spare-the-Air Day.

And if a farmer cannot farm his or her land due to lack of water, the land could be deemed worthless. It is the availability of water that gives land value.

Gov. Jerry Brown touted agriculture’s success and importance to California’s economy in his gubernatorial debate last week.

It is a $45 billion industry. Our farms represent approximately 11 percent of all U.S. agriculture sales. Eliminating the ability of farms to produce is not acceptable and is dangerous to the economy of our state.

Last month, the Legislature came together with the governor in a collaborative manner to develop a water bond that was supported unanimously in the Senate. This positive work – a product of years of bi-partisan negotiations – stands in stark contrast to the process that resulted in the controversial groundwater legislation.

The most significant change in water law in our lifetime demands that the Legislature deliberate responsibly in a transparent manner.

The Legislature should not act hastily just to meet an arbitrary deadline.

The governor has spoken fondly of his family property in Colusa County. On behalf of his neighbors, it is our hope that the governor rejects the half-baked regulation and asks all stakeholders to reconvene in an open forum so that we can draft the groundwater legislation that California deserves.