Well, so much for Republican tough-on-crime rhetoric.
At least as long as the offense in question is stealing water.
As state lawmakers wrapped up a gargantuan $11 billion water bond proposal in an all-night session Tuesday, they gutted provisions to step up enforcement of water rights and increase the penalty for illegal diversions to … paying market rate for the water.
The opposition was led by GOP lawmakers representing agricultural regions, though credit also goes to lobbyists for East Bay MUD and the city of San Francisco. They objected to giving the state Water Resources Control Board such rudimentary tools as the authority to issue an interim cease-and-desist order while sorting out illegal diversion allegations. Also removed from the bill was authority for the board to initiate theft investigations rather than waiting for someone to complain.
Enforcement was one aspect of a legislative package that trades restoration of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and new conservation measures for additional storage and delivery systems sought by agribusiness interests and Southern California water districts. With major environmental groups split on the basic question of passing any water bill, the strictest enforcement rules were quietly jettisoned while the midnight debate focused on a questionable earmark for a Sacramento nonprofit group.
Don’t farmers, who use 80 percent of the state’s water, have the greatest interest in ensuring that water isn’t being rustled?
California already is the only western state that doesn’t regulate groundwater pumping. And the water package was, ahem, watered down to require measuring rather than monitoring (and certainly not regulating) to guard against overdraft. Also turning a blind eye to illegal diversions suggests lawmakers aren’t very serious about oversight.
One laudable provision of the enforcement bill survived. It authorizes the water board to add 25 more people to investigate thefts. Currently, there are six.
Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who was at the bargaining table, said he’ll pursue stronger enforcement rules when the regular legislative session resumes in January. For now, he concedes, “unless someone catches you stealing water, you’re likely to succeed.”
— Jim Sweeney