Water reporting rules will take effect on Jan. 1
By Kate Campbell
Expanded requirements for measuring and reporting water diversions—as small as 10 acre-feet—have farmers and ranchers bracing for added costs and complexities.
Senate Bill 88, passed in June, adds water measurement and reporting requirements that become effective on Jan. 1.
The State Water Resources Control Board said it intends to adopt an emergency regulation to meet the legislative deadline at its second meeting in January. The water board has held a series of regional public meetings, with a workshop set for Dec. 17 in Sacramento.
Among the many uncertainties about the emergency regulation are how much statewide implementation will cost and what will be done with data from hourly monitoring of water diversions, said Danny Merkley, California Farm Bureau Federation water resources director.
The SB 88 requirement will apply to about 12,000 water right holders statewide.
During the 2015 drought, the water board said, it called for water users to provide predictions of expected surface water diversions, and report back on actual use. The board said the information received from water diverters "showed the historic reporting standard does not provide accurate or timely water demand data sufficient for drought response."
SB 88 authorizes the water board to adopt an initial, emergency regulation that will be in effect until the board finalizes a permanent one.
The emergency regulation calls for measurement devices or methods that "must be capable of continuous measuring of water diversion rates and quantity—and permitees must maintain a record of all diversion, including date, time and in intervals of one hour or less."
No equipment specifications or operation requirements have been set.
"These requirements would apply to all years, not just drought years, although they're being introduced in the context of an emergency due to the drought," Merkley said.
In a letter to the water board, the Shasta County Farm Bureau said SB 88 was "pushed through the Legislature without benefit of the normal legislative hearing process as an emergency measure."
Although the bill was signed by the governor in June, public workshops weren't held until the first week in November, just weeks before the Jan. 1 effective date of the emergency regulation.
"The prolonged lag time between the authorizing legislation and notice to the public is unacceptable and leaves those regulated in an impossible compliance position," the county Farm Bureau said.
Farm Bureau actively opposed these and other provisions in SB 88 at the time it was voted on by the Legislature and continues to find the proposed regulation problematic, Merkley added.
The water board has the authority to exercise discretion under SB 88, to modify the requirements if strict compliance is infeasible, is unreasonably expensive, would unreasonably affect public trust uses, or would result in the waste or unreasonable use of water, he said.
Merkley said the water board could increase the 10 acre-foot reporting threshold to 25 acre-feet or more if the benefits of additional information are substantially outweighed by the cost of installing measuring devices.
After a November public meeting in Redding, the Shasta County Cattlemen's Association wrote to the water board saying it believes SB 88 "is unworkable and one of the worst pieces of legislation regarding water rights and diversions we have ever seen."
The cattle ranchers said their concerns include a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach that lumps those diverting very small amounts of water in with the state's largest diverters.
Working with the University of California Cooperative Extension on water measurement technology, the county cattlemen's association said it found some equipment failure and cumbersome data management, noting "downloading and summarizing transducer data to meet the (proposed) monthly reporting requirement is a herculean task."
The Dec. 17 public workshop will take place at 9 a.m. at the CalEPA Headquarters Building, 1001 I St. in Sacramento.
Merkley encouraged farmers and ranchers who divert water to attend the meeting, to explain how the emergency regulations, as proposed, would affect their ability to comply.
He said comments from farmers and ranchers might help the water board understand why requirements should be modified and should not be expanded to include small diversions or stockpond registrations.
"Some hurdles to compliance with any diversion measurement are the availability of power in remote areas, inability to reach diversion locations during all months due to weather conditions, cold-weather damage to equipment, and ponds filled from multiple sources," Merkley said.
Information on the proposed regulation is at www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/measurement_regulation/.
(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.