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Legislative Update: Six New California Laws Impacting Water

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed several news bills into law that impact California water. We take a look at six of these, which include measures aimed at providing help for failing water agencies, cutting down on excessive water use and making the most of stormwater.

Written by Tara Lohan Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
San Joaquin river water flows through the Friant-Kern canal as it winds through orange orchards near Orange Cove, California. A new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown could bring more irrigation water to users of the canal.Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP

The end of September meant both the end of the 2016 water year and a deadline for signing new legislation. In the past few weeks California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bevy of new bills into law, many of them addressing drought or water issues in the state.

Some affect water indirectly. Senate Bill (SB) 859, which establishes a Healthy Soils Program, is written to help build quality agricultural soil to increase carbon sequestration, but healthy soils also help retain more water. SB 1414 aims to help increase energy efficiency, which can also help save water.

Below are six other bills that address drought and water issues head on:

Senate Bill 552: Help for Failing Water Agencies

The vast majority of California’s water agencies deliver a safe and reliable supply of water, but some are failing to make the grade. SB 552, written by Sen. Lois Wolk, allows the State Water Resources Control Board to bring in an outside contractor to help struggling water agencies meet water standards.

“This bill will allow the Board to order a water system which is consistently failing to provide safe, clean and affordable drinking water to accept a contract administrator who will be able to immediately implement a number of measures to help ratepayers, and also to create a long-term sustainability plan for the system,” said attorney Deborah Ores of the Community Water Center.

Senate Bill 1263: Banning Small Water Agencies

This bill by Sen. Bob Wieckowski is another intended to protect drinking water. But it takes a different approach. Smaller water agencies tend to be more likely, because of limited resources, not to meet reliability or quality regulations, so to protect public health SB 1263 would ban the creation of new, small water districts.

“It aims to guarantee the safety and reliability of drinking water statewide by encouraging new developments to tie into existing water districts rather than create their own,” Michael Levitin wrote for Water Deeply. “The measure would especially help low-income communities that cannot afford to pay for improved water quality, and could specifically impact Central Valley cities such as Merced, Bakersfield, Fresno and the rural regions around them that have seen innumerable small water agencies sprout up in recent decades to keep pace with population growth.”

Senate Bill 814: Curbing Excessive Water Use

Water guzzlers beware. SB 814, written by Sen. Jerry Hill, would require urban water agencies to define and discourage excessive water use during state-designated drought emergencies that require water restrictions. Agencies could use a rate structure or an excessive-use ordinance that would come with fines and possible drought-shaming.

“This legislation ensures that every urban retail water supplier has a tool to curb excessive water use by customers,” said Hill. “Households that guzzle water – while their neighbors and most other Californians abide by mandatory reductions – will no longer be able to hide and persist in their excess.”

Assembly Bill 1755: Water Data

One of the biggest things to come out of California’s ongoing drought is a focus on better collection and sharing of water data. Assembly member Bill Dodd’s Assembly Bill 1755 takes a step in that direction with the creation of a platform to share water data.

According to the bill’s text, it would “create, operate and maintain a statewide integrated water data platform that, among other things, would integrate existing water and ecological data information from multiple databases and provide data on completed water transfers and exchanges.”

The integration of data would include information from the State Water Project and federal Central Valley project; streamflow conditions from the United States Geological Survey; fish abundance from California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and information on water transfers and exchanges.

Assembly Bill 935: Irrigation Water for Users Friant-Kern Canal

Assembly member Rudy Salas’ bill, AB 935, may help move 15,000–30,000 acre-feet (18.5–37 million cubic meters) of water a year to nine irrigation districts that compose the South Valley Water Association in the San Joaquin Valley.

The bill “authorizes $7 million in state money to build pumps to move water north to about Terra Bella via reverse flow pump-back facilities still to be built,” the Fresno Bee reported. “Water would be pumped out of the lower San Joaquin River and into the California Aqueduct on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, transported south to the Cross Valley Canal, then east to the Friant-Kern Canal.”

It’s not a done deal yet as money would need to be appropriated in next year’s budget.

Assembly B 2594: Capturing Stormwater

Assembly member Rich Gordon’s AB 2594 helps move stormwater from nuisance to resource. The new law lets water agencies collect stormwater and then make the most of it – including reusing it, recharging groundwater with it, selling it or using it to boost water quality.

“For too long, clean, crisp storm water has been viewed as a problem. In reality, stormwater is a gift – a solution to drought,” said Gordon in a statement about his bill. “AB 2594 allows those that capture stormwater to use it.”

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