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Six Water Bills to Watch So Far This Spring in California’s Legislature

Here’s a look at some of California’s newly introduced legislation that will have an impact on water, environmental protection, groundwater, water supply and wildlife.

Written by Tara Lohan Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the California Legislature, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif.AP/Rich Pedroncelli

It’s early in the legislative season in California, but already a few bills are emerging that those following water issues in the state will want to watch.

Three bills rolled out by Democrats in the California Senate, called Preserve California, are intended to protect public land and fend off the effects of rollbacks to environment and health regulations expected from the GOP-controlled government in Washington. While none of the bills is solely about water, they all would have significant water implications.

Other bills focus on desalination, protecting waterfowl and transparency on overdrafted aquifers.

1. SB 49: The California Environmental Defense Act

Introduced into the California Senate by Senate leader Kevin de Leon and Henry Stern, SB 49 is designed to protect California if there are rollbacks of major federal environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act by making current standards enforceable as baselines under state law.

“The Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress are racing to weaken decades-old environmental and public health protections,” said de Leon. “SB 49 makes existing federal laws – like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts – enforceable under California law, so we can preserve the state we know and love, regardless of what happens in Washington.”

2. SB 50: The Public Lands Protection Act

The next bill in the package, SB 50, introduced by Ben Allen, would seek to discourage the federal government from selling off federal public lands in the state.

“The bill would require the commission, the Wildlife Conservation Board and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to enter into a memorandum of understanding establishing a state policy that they will undertake all feasible efforts to protect against future unauthorized conveyances of federal public lands or any change in federal public land designation,” the bill states.

3. SB 51: The Whistleblower and Public Data Protection Act

SB 51, introduced by Hannah-Beth Jackson, takes a stand for whistleblowers and data.

On the data front, the bill would make sure scientific information that has been made public is not destroyed or censored by the federal government. And it would protect whistleblowers from losing their professional licenses for revealing unethical, dangerous or illegal behavior.

“With science and scientific data under threat, SB 51 will protect whistleblowers who bravely and selflessly stand up for the public’s interest from having their professional credentials stripped away if they are licensed to practice in California,” said Jackson. “It will also ensure that climate change and other scientific data so critical to our future remains intact and accessible to scientists for years to come.”

4. AB 472: Water Transfers and Idled Agricultural Land

Jim Frazier’s bill would aid wildlife and birds by having the Department of Water Resources, in consultation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, develop an incentive program for landowners who voluntarily retain cover crops or natural vegetation on their lands when they are not planted due to a water transfer.

One important inclusion in the bill is that it would: “Prohibit a landowner who participates in the program from engaging in practices such as discing, spraying of herbicides, mowing, chipping or rolling any vegetation on those idled lands until after July 15 of each year when the waterfowl and bird nesting season ends.”

5. AB 554: State Goal for Desalination

Introduced by Jordan Cunningham, this bill would amend the Water Code to set a statewide goal of 300,000 acre-feet a year of drinking water from desalination by 2025 and 500,000 acre-feet a year by 2030.

“The law provides that is it the intention of the Legislature that the Department of Water Resources undertake to find economic and efficient methods of desalting saline water so that desalted water may be made available to help meet the growing water requirements of the state,” the bill reads.

Cunningham also introduced another desalination-related bill, AB 457, that would study the possibility of developing a drinking water supply from the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant’s desalination facility. A previous plan to supply homes in the area with water was scrapped when it was announced the nuclear plant would be decommissioned in 2025.

6. SB 252: Wells in Critically Overdrafted Basins

As the state works to implement its Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, SB 252, introduced by Bill Dodd, would address immediate transparency concerns with critically overdrafted groundwater basins.

“The bill would require a city or county overlying a critically overdrafted basin to make certain information about the new well included in the application for a well permit publicly available and easily accessible and, before issuing any new well permit, to undertake a notice and comment period,” the bill states.

Information needed in the application would include location, elevation, depth, proposed capacity, distance from pollution sources, water table depth, recharge area and rate, location to floodplain and location of ponds, lakes, wetlands and streams within 30ft.

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