Water Legislation (Chapter 27)

The Secretary of State enrolled Chapter 27, the so-called Budget Trailer Bill (SB 88), on June 24, 2015.  This statute enacted several important water rights and water distribution laws.  The following highlights the major features of this statute.  We will distribute a more detailed analysis later.

Water Purveyor Consolidation

Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 of Chapter 27 contain a comprehensive process for consolidating water purveyors under the supervision of the State Water Resources Control Board.  (AB 115 covers the same subject in the same terms.)  The Local Agency Formation Commission had the power to accomplish everything contained in this law.  The State Board has become the de facto “formation commission” for water purveyor consolidation.  The purpose of this provision is to eliminate small troubled purveyors.  The process is detailed and will be discussed in our next message.

Environmental Quality Review

Section 5 refers to several land planning cases and the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and concludes “unregulated well pumping and stressed high and medium priority groundwater basins during the ongoing drought emergency is causing risks to health, safety, and well-being of citizens.”  The consequences of this finding on environmental review are discussed in the following sections.

Sections 6, 7, and 8 excuse CEQA compliance for projects to mitigate the drought.  As we will explain later, Section 6 purports to excuse compliance for recycled water and groundwater replenishment projects, but does not actually do so.  In section 8, cities and counties are exempted from CEQA for regulations which “limit or prohibit the drilling of new or deeper groundwater wells, or to limit or prohibit increased extraction from existing groundwater wells, through stricter conditions on the issuance of well permits or changes in the intensity of land use that would increase demand on groundwater.”

Implementation

Section 9 authorizes any public entity, which supplies water at retail or wholesale “for the benefit of persons,” to mandate water conservation measures to reduce consumption. Section 10 authorizes public education programs.  The costs of such programs are declared to be a legitimate cost of service.  Section 11 allows misdemeanor penalties and the imposition of a $10,000 fine for the first violation of the drought measure, and $500 for each additional day of violation.  Volumetric penalties are authorized.  The fine may be imposed administratively with  court appeal.  Section 12 designates public officials authorized to enforce the penalties.

Miscellaneous

Section 13 codifies the State Board’s emergency drought regulations.  Section 15 requires anyone who diverts more than 10 acre feet per year to install and maintain a meter.  Sections 16, 17, and 19 allow the State Board to require other production reports.  Sections 14, 20, and 21 authorize expenditure of state money to carry out parts of this law.

As mentioned, we will distribute a more detailed explanation of these provisions in coming days.

by Wayne K. Lemieux

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