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SB 820, California's "Mega Water Bill"

Senator Shiela Keuhl, Chairman, Natural Resources and Water Committee, is sponsoring Senate Bill 820, California’s so-called “Mega Water Bill.”  Provisions in the bill pertaining to regulation of ground water use in the state are especially welcome and encouraging, but do not address some of the specific challenges faced by residents of the Borrego Valley.

In particular, the requirement that anyone pumping more than twenty-five acre feet of groundwater per year report annual extractions to the state and penalties for failure to file required reports are long overdue and much needed.  To further strengthen the above, however, a requirement that all wells, or at least those that will or may pump more than twenty-five acre feet per year, be metered to ensure accurate reporting should be added.

Mandating that existing groundwater management plans (GWMPs) be up dated by the end of 2008 and every five years thereafter and specifying requirements for doing so, as the bill does, will encourage, motivate, and help small water districts such as Borrego’s to make progress on groundwater management.  The Borrego Water District (BWD) adopted a GWMP in September 2002; but has been essentially sitting on their hands ever since despite the serious and worsening overdraft of our sole-source aquifer.  Only very recently have they taken the first, halting steps toward implementing any of its provisions.

The BWD is surely not alone in this.  Rather, it is likely a poster-child for many other small water districts in California that, for a variety of reasons, cannot or will not effectively care for and protect the interests of their constituents; i.e., the public.

As well, even more stringent provisions should be added to SB 820 to protect aquifers that are the sole-source of water for a community as is the case with the Borrego Valley aquifer.  The mining of our aquifer by the few to irrigate crops and golf courses disadvantages the many and is not, therefore, a “beneficial use” of that resource from the standpoint of the majority because it will soon deplete the community’s only water source.

Therefore, SB 820 should contain a provision that specifies what does and does not constitute “beneficial use” of water from a sole-source aquifer.  In such circumstances as exist here, “beneficial use” would not and, indeed, could not be construed to include profligate pumping to irrigate a desert.

Furthermore, the BWD and other water districts appear to be in violation of the “public trust,” a concept that relates back to the very origins of democratic government.  It is the seminal idea that the public places responsibility on government to care for their interests and, reciprocally, requires that whatever trust the public places in its officials to do so must be respected.

By consistently failing and refusing to take reasonable, meaningful, and timely action to correct the steadily worsening groundwater situation in the Borrego Valley, the BWD has failed in its duty of care.  It would be very surprising if there were not a number of other water districts similarly situated that are also on course to disaster.  SB 820 should include language requiring public agencies to take all necessary actions to safeguard sole-source groundwater resources for the common good on pain of sanctions.

If you want to support SB 820 or would like to see some or all of the above or, other, provisions added to the bill, write to:
Shiela Keuhl, Chairman
Natural Resources and Water Committee
State Capitol, Room 5108
Sacramento, CA  95814

Or call her office at:  916.651.4023.

N.B. Senator Keuhl cautions that e-mails are likely to get lost among the many messages she receives.

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