Assembly Passes Fair Water Rights Legislation

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

SACRAMENTO – California lawmakers acted decisively Tuesday to make fixes to the state’s broken water management structure. Assembly Bill 313, introduced by Assemblyman Adam C. Gray (D-Merced), overwhelmingly passed the California Assembly with an initial 55-0 vote. The bill makes necessary reforms to how the state manages water rights.

“Anyone who deals with California water knows the system is broken,” Gray said. “Today’s vote sends a clear message that we realize it’s time to get to work, starting with restoring the fairness our water rights holders expect and deserve.”

AB 313 establishes a new water rights management structure, creating a new Water Rights Division in the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) to handle all water rights matters. The shift removes conflicts of interest and built-in biases in the current system. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) currently exercises vast control over California’s water rights. The SWRCB has the power to write regulations, initiate enforcement actions, and conduct hearings in its own courtroom in which Board staff act as the prosecution and Board members act as judge and jury.

“There’s a reason why that structure is extremely unusual: it just isn’t good government,” Gray said. “State agencies aren’t supposed to have unchecked power. They shouldn’t be able to act with impunity and little accountability to the public. Creating a level playing field, as this bill does, ensures water rights holders receive the same due process and objectivity that our justice system promises everyone – nothing more, nothing less.”

Under AB 313, administrative law judges in the new Water Rights Division would handle all water rights matters, providing a neutral body for hearings regarding those complicated, and often controversial, issues. The bill ensures an efficient, productive transfer of power to the new Water Rights Division, preventing any duplication of work or similar responsibility to fall under the SWRCB.

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) provided technical support in crafting the bill, which previously passed through the Assembly policy and fiscal committees without a single “no” vote.

“The District applauds Assemblyman Gray for taking on this essential issue impacting communities across California,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “It speaks to his vision and foresight as a legislator, and his purposeful effectiveness as a policymaker. California’s water and irrigation districts – and, by extension, the people we all serve – will have a more secure water supply when this bill becomes law.”

AB 313 now moves to the Senate, where it will be considered in the coming weeks.

Assemblymember Adam C. Gray represents the 21st Assembly District which includes all of Merced County and portions of Stanislaus County.