‘Dangerous’ Water Rights Legislation Continues Moving Forward

Brian German Agri-Business, Legislative, Water

California lawmakers are continuing the progression of multiple pieces of water rights legislation. Three particular bills recently passed through their house of origin. Collectively, the bills would create fundamental changes in how the state manages water supplies.

Water Rights Legislation

“All of them I think are dangerous in amending or upending the California water rights system. It’s a complicated system,” said Dave Puglia, President and CEO of Western Growers. “But it has accommodated growth in this state. It has accommodated water sharing and it increasingly accommodates environmental needs for water flows.”

One of the pieces of legislation is AB 460, which is now awaiting consideration in Senate committees. The bill would give the State Water Board increased authority to issue interim curtailment orders. Another bill progressing through the Legislature is AB 1337. The bill provides authority for curtailing pre-1914 water rights without the need for an emergency declaration. Additionally, SB 389 would broaden the authority of the water board to include the ability to investigate the validity of senior water rights at any time.

“When you start messing with the water rights system you threaten the economic viability of innumerable farms. You threaten the economies of entire regions and some large cities like San Francisco,” Puglia noted. “To the point that those parties will seek to go to court and protect their water rights interests.”

Opponents of the water rights legislation, which includes a broad coalition of agricultural groups, note they will also curb necessary upgrades to water infrastructure. Puglia said that destabilizing the current system disincentives investment. Creating uncertainty within the water rights system makes state and federal cost-share programs less of a viable option to facilitate improvements.

“It’s very hard to see those private interests writing those checks when they have no guarantee that there will be a return on the investment because the water rights that they’ve relied on historically have been upended,” Puglia explained. “So, I think there’s just danger in this discussion.”

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West