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March 27, 2015

Drought Packaged Signed by Governor Brown

On March 27, Governor Jerry Brown signed the $1.1 billion emergency drought package. The drought legislation was approved in the Senate and Assembly. Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature expressed support for emergency assistance to drought-stricken areas during consideration of the legislation. However, Republicans objected to new government authorities also included within the drought package.

Upon signing the drought package, Governor Brown said, “This funding is just one piece of a much larger effort to help those most impacted by the drought and prepare the state for an uncertain future,” said Governor Brown. “But make no mistake, from Modoc to Imperial County, rain is not in the forecast and every Californian must be doing their utmost to conserve water.”

During the Assembly floor debate, Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said, “When we passed the historic water bond last year, we said we would revisit it to do more if needed. The package before us today is the first step in fulfilling that obligation and in helping bring relief to Californians suffering the effects of the drought.”

The emergency drought package accelerates existing funds for the following purposes: $267 million in Prop 1 water bond funds for safe drinking water and water recycling, $660 million from Prop 1E for flood protection to prepare for future weather events, $17 million for emergency food aid to drought-affected areas, $4 million for emergency drinking water to disadvantaged communities, $5 million to the Department of Water Resources to provide emergency drinking water support for small communities, including private well shortages, as well as other funding.

The drought package also creates a new office within the State Water Resources Control Board tasked with finding permanent solutions for safe drinking water and wastewater treatment.

Republicans voiced concerns regarding the portion of the drought package that authorizes fines of up to $8,000 for those who illegally dam or divert rivers and streams. Republicans said certain provisions in the legislation give broad powers for government officials to prevent landowners or water rights holders from appealing penalties. Democrats argued the language is a way to crack down on marijuana growers in the state.

The drought legislation authorizes the Department of Fish and Wildlife to levy civil penalties “where diversions are obstructing fish passage” and for “obstructions associated with marijuana cultivation.”

Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) was among those who objected to the provisions. He said, “It’s a very broad and sweeping, expansive authority granted to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The problem with granting Fish and Wildlife these powers is they’re not just going to just use them against marijuana growers. They’re going to use them against people who have water rights and people who have an existing right to divert water.”

Senator Tom Berryhill (R-Twain Harte) said, “Every time we do one of these emergency bills what we really do is expand the authority of government.”

Confidentiality of Well Logs Threatened Under SB 20

On March 24, Ag Council opposed SB 20 by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) during a Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water hearing. The measure would allow well completion reports–also known as well logs or drillers logs–to be made publicly available.

Well logs are a record of the drilling and construction of a well. Well logs must currently be submitted to the Department of Water Resources and are available to the appropriate public agencies.

Ag Council opposes SB 20 since agencies that need well log data already have access to the information. The data is confidential and releasing it to the public does not provide any advantage, except to render it subject to litigation.

SB 20 passed the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water on March 24 and is now pending in the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality.

In Case You Missed It

Click HERE to read an op-ed in the LA Times written by an almond grower entitled, “Why almond growers aren’t the water enemy.”

If you missed the AgNet West interview with State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus, conducted during Ag Council’s 96th Annual Meeting, click HERE to read it and listen to the audio.