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Davis, California

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Legislators reach compromise on water crisis

After decades of debate over California’s flawed water system, legislators have finally reached an agreement concerning a plan to improve it.

Discussions concluded after Tuesday’s all-night session that ended just before 6 a.m. Four of the five parts of the bill passed legislature.

California’s water crisis in a nutshell: California’s limited water supply mainly comes from the northern part of the state and the Sierras. This water is transported via a man-made aqueduct through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Southern California, which depends almost entirely on this system. Parts of the structure, however, harm the ecosystem of the Delta. Attempts to lessen effects on the ecosystem have caused complaints from farmers that their water supplies are not adequate.

The bill that attempted to address this crisis, SB 68, originally was composed of five basic parts: Delta Governance creates a decision-making structure to decide the best solution for the water crisis, and Conservation creates requirements for urban and agricultural water conservation. Groundwater Monitoring improves monitoring for California’s groundwater supply, and Funding proposes a method to fund these projects. Water Rights Enforcement would attempt to change and enforce California’s water rights.

The Water Rights Enforcement portion of the water package was the only bill that did not pass through the legislature. Difficulties arose due to certain areas of California that have an abundant water supply, such as San Francisco and Northern California in general, that did not want their water rights altered.

Last night, the Water Rights bill was “de-linked” from the water package. Decisions regarding this aspect will not affect the rest of the package. The portion awaits action in the seventh special session of the legislature.

The other four parts of the bill, however, passed through the legislature and are expected to be signed by the governor.

“This legislature has been able to accomplish something that no legislature has been able to accomplish in decades,” senate president pro tem Darrell Steinberg told the Sacramento Bee. “We all know that people ask, ‘Can this legislature actually take on the biggest, most intractable problems, and find solutions?’ The answer is yes.”

Although the passage of the water package does not initiate any immediate action regarding California’s water conveyance – the Delta Governance structure will decide this – Californians will probably see effects of the water package soon.

The water conservation bill will instate new requirements for agricultural and urban water conservation, with a statewide target of a 20 percent reduction in urban water usage per capita by 2020. Actions will be taken to improve agricultural water conservation as well.

“The water conservation portion of this package is a significant advancement in water conservation statewide. It places new requirements for conservation and new penalties for non-compliance,” said Kate Williams, principal consultant to Assemblymember Jared Huffman, chair of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.

The Legislature also passed an $11 billion bond to fund the water package, which is projected to be on the statewide ballot for vote next year. The money will be taken out of the General Fund, which could potentially translate into more cuts to schools, health care and social services.

Legislators said, however, that this bond will not be an immediate burden to our economy since the money will not be taken out for several years.

“This is something that is very badly needed,” said Governor Schwarzenegger in a press conference on Nov. 4. “I want to let the people of California know they can be very proud of their legislators.”

Yolo County, however, has not supported the passage of this water package. It is part of the Delta Counties Coalition, which consists of Yolo, Solano, Sacramento, Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties -areas that are directly adjacent to the Delta. The coalition argued that these counties should have a louder voice in the decision-making process since they are directly affected.

“We feel this approach is way too much, too soon,” said Dirk Brazil, Deputy County Administrator for Yolo County. “It does not do enough to allay fears that local control will be lost. We don’t think we’re asking too much when we ask for better representation and plenty of money to mitigate our environmental concerns.”

The governor and the legislature said they are optimistic about the compromise.

“I am so excited that my vision is one step closer to becoming reality,” Schwarzenegger said. “And that is to fix California’s water infrastructure.”

SARAH HANSEL can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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