Describing California's water management structure as "broken," Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) introduced new legislation Feb. 6 to overhaul and restructure the current administration and enforcement of water rights and the State Water Project.
"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," said Gray. "The net effect is an ineffective bureaucratic maze which leaves us unable to capitalize on vital opportunities and prioritizes special interest working behind the scenes over good public policy."
In Assembly Bill 313, Gray proposes revising the qualifications for the State Water Resources Control Board and transfer authority over water rights matters from the Board to the Department of Water Resources with enforcement proceedings will be conducted separately by the Office of Administrative Hearings. The bill proposes eliminating the duty of the DWR and State Water board to take all appropriate proceedings or actions to prevent waste, unreasonable use, unreasonable method of use, or unreasonable method of diversion.
"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?"
If enacted, the bill would establish a Water Rights Division within the Office of Administrative Hearings and authorize the Director of Water Resources to issue a complaint to a person who violates certain use and diversion of water provisions and subjects the violators to administrative civil liability. The bill also aims to establish the State Water commission within the Natural Resources Agency, which would have authority over and relating to the State Water Project.
To stress the importance of addressing the fact that California's water management structure has not been changed significantly since it was adopted in 1969, Gray referenced to a 2010 report from the Little Hoover Commission. The report, "Managing for Change: Modernizing California's Water Governance," urged the Governor and the Legislature to modernize and restructure the 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."