Bills pass: Farm Bureau sees progress and 'work to do' on water


Issue Date: November 11, 2009
Kate Campbell

It took an all-night session of the California Legislature to finalize a package of water bills that included both policy changes and an $11 billion bond measure. Representatives of farmers, ranchers and others who depend on the state's aging water system continue to assess the bills' full impact.

Throughout weeks and months of negotiations on the bills, there was one point of widespread agreement: Clinging to the status quo on water issues and infrastructure was unacceptable.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Doug Mosebar said the bill package represents real progress toward meeting long-term water challenges facing the state's family farmers and ranchers.

"Severe water shortages have forced family farmers in parts of California to spend many sleepless nights trying to figure out how to save their farms and continue to produce food for our people," Mosebar said. "With approval of these bills, the Legislature has moved California toward solutions needed to restore reliable water supplies for everyone."

He added that "there's still much work to do to find short-term fixes to the current water crisis. The Legislature and the governor, however, have recognized the key elements needed to achieve long-term solutions to our state's water problems. We appreciate the governor's persistence in pressing for water development and the efforts by legislators to finalize the package."

Mosebar identified the key elements as the addition of new water storage both aboveground and underground; improved ability to move water; protection of water rights that people depend on; and enhancement of the delta ecosystem.

Here's how the five bills in the water package address issues of concern to family farmers and ranchers:

The first bill, SBX7 1, deals with governance issues, including reforms for state policies and programs affecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It sets guidelines for developing a new delta plan, reconstitutes the Delta Protection Commission and creates a Delta Stewardship Council and a Delta Conservancy. The legislation allows the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process, in which Farm Bureau has been participating, to go forward. The bill requires the council to incorporate the BDCP into the delta plan.

The bill includes language to protect water rights in areas where water originates.

SBX7 2 is titled the Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010. If approved by voters in November 2010, it will authorize issuance of $11.14 billion in bonds, but in two offerings to better manage debt service costs.

Bond proceeds will fund an array of new water supply projects, including new surface storage as well as near-term, regional water supply reliability projects. The bond also includes language to protect area-of-origin water rights. Allocations in the bond include:

  • $3 billion for new surface storage
  • $455 million for drought relief
  • $2.25 billion for delta improvement projects
  • $1.25 billion for recycling and conservation
  • $1.785 billion for watersheds and water quality
  • $1 billion for groundwater cleanup and protection
  • $1.4 billion for regional water supply projects.

"This historic agreement is the most significant step the state has taken in decades to invest in its crumbling water infrastructure," said Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, who authored the bond bill. "This comprehensive water plan will help reverse the tide that has forced farmers to fallow crops, which has caused out-of-work laborers who once fed the world to stand in food lines."

SBX7 6 addresses groundwater supplies and introduces a monitoring program to be conducted by local entities, with help as needed from the Department of Water Resources.

This measure does not specifically impose any new requirements, reporting or restrictions on individual well owners. Proposed language to charge some well owners fees for monitoring functions was deleted from the final version of the bill. In addition, it expressly prohibits DWR from assessing fees to recover the costs of this new program.

SBX7 7 covers water conservation and efficiency. It establishes a statewide water conservation program for urban and industrial uses and a water use efficiency program for agriculture.

The bill requires large agricultural water suppliers—districts supplying water to 25,000 irrigated acres or more—to develop and implement water management plans. Under the newly approved bill, districts providing water to between 10,000 and 25,000 irrigated acres would be required to develop water management plans only if DWR provides sufficient funding for the development and implementation of those plans. Districts serving fewer than 10,000 irrigated acres are exempt from the requirements.

The bill requires districts serving urban and industrial users to meet specific conservation targets, but does not establish specific conservation targets for agriculture.

SBX7 8 covers water diversions and use reporting. In general, it requires all surface water diversions in the state to be reported to the State Water Resources Control Board. It also establishes penalties for not filing reports.

This is more workable for farmers and ranchers, Mosebar said, given that prior versions of the bill would have established penalties at an amount equivalent to the highest market value of water and would have imposed penalties retroactively for up to three years.

"These provisions were not included in the final version of the bill due to objections by Farm Bureau and other agricultural stakeholders," Mosebar noted.

CFBF Water Resources Director Danny Merkley added, "We were able to help guide this package of water bills through the complexities of the legislative process and help maintain a direction for future water policy that will enhance our ability to store and deliver water while protecting our system of water rights."

Looking to the future, Merkley said the full impact of the Legislature's actions won't be determined until voters decide on the bond measure next November.

He noted that Farm Bureau and other groups will monitor implementation of the policy bills, to determine their impact on California's long-term water needs.

"Our population is increasing. The Sierra snowpack, our largest reservoir, is shrinking and environmental demands for more water seem unquenchable. The bill package and the proposed bond could go a long way to shoring up the state's broken water delivery system," Merkley said.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.