Capitol Alert

Water-use disclosure bill sinks in California Senate

Stormwater floods the 5-acre almond orchard of Modesto farmer Nick Blom in an experiment to restore aquifer on Jan. 19, 2016.
Stormwater floods the 5-acre almond orchard of Modesto farmer Nick Blom in an experiment to restore aquifer on Jan. 19, 2016. The Sacramento Bee file

A measure to expand public disclosure of commercial, industrial and other institutional water uses in California fell far short of passage in the state Senate on Friday.

Assembly Bill 1520, which would have removed exemptions to the Public Records Act for business customers of local water agencies, garnered only 15 votes on the floor, well below the 21 it needed to advance. The proposal, by Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, was opposed by a long list of agricultural and business groups, including winemakers, car washes and restaurants.

“This bill would undermine the privacy interests of California manufacturers who are subject to competition from out-of-state manufacturers who will not be subject to the similar data disclosures,” said Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula. “Giving this information to the public serves no purpose except to shame a company that happens to use a large quantity of water.”

A 1997 law made secret previously public utility data on customers’ water and power use after tech executives in Silicon Valley raised privacy concerns. AB 1520 would have partially reversed the policy while keeping residential customer records confidential.

Another bill this year also sought more disclosure as part of a “drought-shaming” campaign to discourage excessive water use. The public records provision was ultimately stripped from its final form, which would require urban water suppliers to track and fine customers whose use exceeds a certain threshold during drought emergencies. It awaits action on the governor’s desk.

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Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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