The bills, which would allow the state to take over management of
underground aquifers and water accessed via wells, tighten oversight
of water at a time when groundwater levels are shrinking in the
third year of a catastrophic drought.
“If we don’t get started on fixing this problem we are going to find
ourselves in a very dire situation, especially if drought persists,”
said Andrew Fahlund, deputy director of the California Water
Foundation, which supports the two bills in the package.
Farmers in California's agricultural breadbasket rely on water from
wells to irrigate their crops when the state cuts back on supplies
from streams and the fragile San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta.
But recent studies have shown groundwater levels receding throughout
the Southwest, prompting concern among environmentalists and others
that the use needs to be better regulated.
About a million people statewide rely on private wells for drinking
water, many of which have gone dry as groundwater levels have
Critics say the proposed legislation would impose overly rigid
guidelines on farmers and wouldn’t address the different geographic
needs of water users. Opponents also say the legislation was hastily
“This could be the largest piece of water legislation regarding
water rights that people in legislature will vote on in their
career,” said Justin Oldfield, lobbyist for the California
Cattlemen’s Association. “Should they really make the decision in
such a short time period?”
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Democratic state Senator Fran Pavley, who authored one of the bills,
said she collaborated with farmers to draft the measure, and that
some, including Community Alliance with Family Farmers, had signed
on to support it.
“The legislation was crafted with extensive input from stakeholders,
including water agencies, farmers, businesses, local governments,
environmental organizations and individual community members,"
Pavley said in an email.
The legislature has until Aug. 31, the last day of this year's
session, to pass the bills or let them die.
(Reporting by Joaquin Palomino in San Francisco; Editing by Sharon
Bernstein and Leslie Adler)
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