Bad Drought Policy Decided Behind Closed Doors

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Legislature and Governor today passed the state budget with a bipartisan 30-9 vote. Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), Vice Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, voted to support the budget bill using the Governor's more prudent revenue estimates.  Senate Bill 97 keeps faith with voters by putting $3.5 billion in the Rainy Day fund.

Senator Nielsen, however, vigorously pushed for opposition to follow-up legislation, known as 'trailer bills,' that imposes mandates and fines on Californians as they cope with extreme drought conditions. Senate Bill 88, which would enact far-reaching water policies, passed with a 24 to 14 vote.

“The drought legislation gives unaccountable state and local officials dictatorial control over our private property water rights,” said Senator Nielsen. “For the first time, state law can dictate what and where farmers and ranchers can produce the food and fiber we need to live.”

Specifically, Senate Bill 88 would empower all water agencies to levy penalties of up to $10,000 plus $500 per additional day for violations of water conservation programs. It would allow any agency “designee” to be judge, jury and executioner in the collection of these fines.

It would also require the monitoring and reporting of water-use by citizens who pump 10 acre-feet per year.

The measure also includes CEQA exemptions for certain projects. While this is a small step in the right direction, it does nothing to streamline much-needed above-ground water storage projects like Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat.

Exemptions are routinely given to professional sports teams to construct arenas and stadiums, but not those that add new clean water supplies for the people of California.

Proposals to provide the same considerations to these important water infrastructure projects, like those introduced by Senate Bill 127 (Vidak) and Assembly 311 (Gallagher), have been denied.

“The sweeping policy changes contained in many of these 'trailer bills' deserve much more public input. A day’s notice and a few hours of debate in Sacramento is simply not enough. The public should be given more notice to allow for more participation, ensuring a more transparent legislative process.”