Significant Progress on Water Legislation: AB 460 Shelved, SB 389 Favorably Amended
Late last month, Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer Kahan (D-Orinda) cancelled a scheduled hearing for her Assembly Bill 460 in the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee. Opposed by CCA, AB 460 would allow any “interested party” to seek an interim relief order from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) for virtually any alleged violation of water rights, water quality or curtailment provisions of the Water Code. The bill would also impose severe fines for violations of an interim relief order with little due process protection.
Bauer-Kahan has signaled her intent to move the bill next year, the second year of the 2023-24 Legislative Session. Nevertheless, halting the bill this year is a significant victory, and at a minimum CCA and other opponents of the legislation now have additional time to seek favorable amendments to the bill or to marshal further opposition to the measure.
Meanwhile, CCA-opposed Senate Bill 389 – legislation which would give the SWRCB additional authority to investigate whether diversion under a claimed pre-1914 water right is “unauthorized” – was favorably amended last Thursday. Specifically, amendments remove a provision of the bill that required a water rights holder to bear the burden of proof to demonstrate the validity of a water right challenged by the SWRCB. Amendments also remove a provision of the bill which would have allowed the SWRCB to revoke a water right for non-use in any five-year period where no conflicting claim of right exists (existing case law limits revocation to circumstances where there is a ‘clash of rights’).
While the favorable amendments remove two of CCA’s greatest objections to the bill, CCA remains opposed to SB 389 because the bill could still impose additional administrative burdens upon water rights holders and could still jeopardize water rights targeted for investigation by the SWRCB. SB 389 will be heard in the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee tomorrow.
CCA has been incredibly successful in achieving its legislative priorities thus far in the Legislative Session. AB 460 and SB 389 were two of four bills lobbied by CCA members at this year’s Lobby Day. A third priority, AB 554 (Gabriel), which would have increased litigation against ranchers by radical animal rights advocates, was shelved earlier this year.
A third water rights bill opposed by CCA, AB 1337 (Wicks), was heard this afternoon in the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee (as of press time the outcome of that hearing was not available). CCA will continue to work to kill or favorably amend that measure.
State Water Board to Discuss Grazing Water Quality Next Tuesday
The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has announced that it will host an informational hearing “on the status of livestock grazing management activities by the Water Boards” during its Board meeting next Tuesday, July 18 (see agenda Item #4).
According to an email from SWRCB staff, the informational hearing is responsive to a request received from “interested parties” at the Board’s November 15, 2022 meeting. At the informational hearing, Water Board “Staff will provide an overview of permit development activities by the Regional Boards, efforts by State Water Board staff to update the 1995 Rangeland Water Quality Management Plan, and an overview of a study prepared by US EPA contractors that characterizes the general regulatory approach of the Water Boards on grazing and compares the actions taken by the nine Regional Boards on grazing. No action will be taken by the Board at the meeting.”
CCA will participate in the July 18 hearing to emphasize ranchers’ good stewardship of the state’s water resources. CCA members are highly encouraged to participate in the hearing to highlight their on-ranch efforts to safeguard and improve water quality, including in collaboration with the Regional Boards and UCCE advisors.
The hearing will begin at 9:30am in the Sierra Room of the CalEPA Building at 1001 I Street in Sacramento. The SWRCB will accommodate virtual participation via Zoom, as well. Virtual participation instructions are available here; please note in particular the instructions near the bottom of the web page under the heading “Requesting to Speak (the ‘Virtual Blue Speaker Card’) and Obtaining the Password for Remote Participation.”
For more information, see the SWRCB’s informational digest on the agenda item, here. To share your water quality story with CCA staff, contact Kirk Wilbur in the CCA office.
Robert Rivas Ascends to Assembly Speaker, Installs New Ag Chair
Assemblyman Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) was sworn in as Speaker of the Assembly on June 30, taking the baton from outgoing speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) after a succession compromise negotiated last year and initially formalized at the outset of the 2023-24 Legislative Session.
Rivas, who grew up in farmworker housing and represents a heavily agricultural district, previously served as Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee. CCA forged a strong relationship with the then-Chair throughout his time on the Agriculture Committee, and Rivas in 2021 carried a CCA-sponsored bill which sought to expand livestock grazing on state-owned lands as a tool to mitigate the risk of wildfire.
Upon being sworn in as speaker, Speaker Rivas appointed Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) as Speaker Pro Tem, tapped Assemblyman Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles) as Majority Leader and appointed new leadership to committees formally chaired by Aguiar-Curry and Bryan. Rivas also appointed his own replacement on the Assembly Agriculture Committee, selecting Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria (D-Merced) to serve in that role.
CCA looks forward to working with Speaker Rivas in his new role and with Assemblywoman Soria as Chair of the Agriculture Committee. Rivas has signaled that additional changes in committee leadership are likely ahead of the second year of the 2023-24 Legislative Session.
Curtailment Statuses Updated for Scott, Shasta, Mill Creek and Deer Creek Watersheds
The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) announced on June 29 that it has extended suspensions of curtailment orders within the Scott River watershed through at least next Tuesday, July 18 so long as minimum flows of 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) are sustained at the US Geological Survey’s Fort Jones gage. Should flows dip below 50 cfs, diverters included in List 1A of Scott River Addendum 50 must cease diversion immediately.
On June 29 the SWRCB also announced the reimposition of curtailments within the Shasta River watershed for junior water rights with priority dates of January 1, 1958 and later. The reimposition of curtailments was occasioned by minimum flows dipping below 50 cfs at the USGS’s Yreka gage. Water rights within the Shasta River watershed with priority dates between November 25, 1912 and December 31, 1957 are “conditionally curtailed”; conditionally curtailed rightsholders must work with the Watermaster and SWRCB and, “if necessary, curtail in order of priority to ensure that the required minimum flows are met at the Yreka USGS gage.” Curtailments of water rights with a priority date earlier than November 25, 1912 remain fully suspended. For more information, see Shasta River Addendum 14.
Finally, the SWRCB has announced that as of “July 1, 2023, Mill and Deer Creek curtailments…are not in effect.” Curtailments for the Russian River and Sacramento-San Joaquin watersheds were previously rescinded in March and April, respectively.
New Episode of Sorting Pen: The California Cattleman Podcast
A new episode of Sorting Pen: The California Cattleman Podcast is out now! Tune into this episode to hear from Jennifer Norris, Deputy Secretary for Biodiversity and Habitat at the California Natural Resources Agency. To listen to the episode click here.