Restore the Delta Encourages Opposition of Assembly Bill 313


On Sunday, Restore the Delta issued a notice of opposition of Assembly Bill 313 introduced by Assemblymember Adam C. Gray (D-Merced) which would overhaul California’s water management structure.

According to Assemblyman Gray’s Feb. 7 press release:

SACRAMENTO – Assemblyman Adam C. Gray (D-Merced) today announced the introduction of new legislation, Assembly Bill 313, to overhaul California’s water management structure.

“Water management at the state level is broken,” said Gray. “Anyone who has tried to work with the state on water knows that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, conflicts of interest are the norm, and state agencies act as their own prosecution, judge, and jury. The net effect is an ineffective bureaucratic maze which leaves us unable to capitalize on vital opportunities and prioritizes special interests working behind the scenes over good public policy.”

AB 313 proposes to restructure the administration and enforcement of water rights and the State Water Project. Authority and enforcement over water rights would be moved from the State Water Resources Control Board and housed under the Department of Water Resources (DWR) with enforcement proceedings conducted separately by the Office of Administrative Hearings. DWR’s current authority and water rights underlying the State Water Project would be transferred to a new State Water Project Authority to eliminate the conflict of DWR both administering and enforcing water rights while simultaneously possessing water rights of its own.

“The way the state enforces water rights is like letting a pitcher call his own strikes and balls,” continued Gray. “The State Water Board writes the regulations, initiates enforcement actions, and put folks on trial in a court they run themselves. Where is the umpire? Where are the checks and balances?”

California’s water management structure has gone largely unchanged since the current model was adopted in 1969. Emphasizing the need to tackle the issue now, Gray cited a 2010 report from the Little Hoover Commission, titled Managing for Change: Modernizing California’s Water Governance, which urged the Governor and the Legislature to modernize and restructure this antiquated system to improve transparency, oversight, and accountability.

“These changes have been a long time coming,” said Gray. “California has failed to manage and plan for the future, because responsibilities are dispersed throughout different departments of government and no one talks to each other. To meet the challenges of climate change, a growing population, and an ever expanding economy, we need to integrate water governance in a way that allows progress instead of gridlock.”

Restore the Delta argues AB 313 would reorganize state water governance to advance water contractors’ interests over legitimate water right holders in the areas of permitting, enforcement, and settling water rights disputes (called “adjudications”). It would create yet another new department, the State Water Project Commission.

The bill would remap, but not eliminate, the state’s conflict of interest in water, and further distance state water agencies from public account.

The idea of AB 313 is to harness state bureaucracy to better serve the California Department of Water Resources, the Bureau of Reclamation and state and federal water contractors. In this light, Mr. Gray’s proposal is a companion bill to recent congressional passage of the Water Infrastructure Investment Now bill, S. 612, whose Subtitle J was authored by Representative David Valadao and Senator Dianne Feinstein, and signed into law during President Barack Obama’s lame-duck session last December.

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