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Last-Minute Budget Legislation Irks Water Agencies

Jun 18, 2015

Late-emerging legislation designed to deal with the drought could be part of the budget package California lawmakers will vote on Friday. But as Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, water agencies say the state is overstepping its authority with some of the provisions in the proposal.

Part of the legislation would give state water regulators the ability to force local water agencies to consolidate. Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, says the intent is to help communities without access to safe drinking water.

Marcus: “It is better to take those small community systems that just are not working and get them into the hands of someone who can make them work.”

But Tim Quinn with the Association of California Water Agencies says consolidation is wrought with legal issues and other complications. He says it also gives the state too much authority.

Quinn: “These are decisions that ought to be made in our view at the local level allowing local discretion to sort through the myriad of complications and issues that have to be dealt with.”

Under the proposed legislation, local ordinances that prevent or restrict new groundwater wells would be exempt from environmental review. Farmers who divert 10 acre feet of water or more a year would have to monitor and report water use to the state water board.  And people who ignore water conservation requirements would only be fined up to $1.000 for the first offense, not $10,000 as Governor Jerry Brown originally proposed.