SB 1 Places Our Environment and Economy at Risk. Let’s Fix It

  • by Dave Eggerton
  • Sep 10, 2019
  • Voices on Water

Many water systems rely on certainty in the Delta to provide millions of Californians and businesses throughout the state with the water they need to fuel our economy and grow our nation’s food supplies. Decisions on how much water to pump, and when, should not be political ones. They should be based on the best science available to protect fish and ecosystems, while ensuring reliable water supplies for two-thirds of the state.

A bill dangerously close to passage in the Legislature would constrain how the backbone of the state water system is operated out of fear that the federal government will shift operations in a way that will harm the environment. This is a classic case of unintended consequences, politics feeding more politics in a way that could destabilize water supplies for many Californians for years to come.

Senate Bill 1, authored by the Senate’s leader, President pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego, seeks to freeze a variety of federal laws and regulations in their place. In particular it seeks to lock in operating rules for the state and federal water projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the State Water Project and Central Valley Project, that were last revised 10 years ago.

Since then, California ratepayers for the State Water Project and Central Valley Project have been investing hundreds of millions of dollars to better understand how to operate these critical water supply projects in ways that minimize impacts to fish and wildlife. SB 1 would throw the last 10 years of evolving science in the Delta out the window and prohibit smarter ways to operate these systems. The bill would also mandate that state law preempt operations of the federal project, a possibly unlawful proposition that courts would undoubtedly have to sort out.

The greater danger of SB 1 is the domino effect it would have in managing water supplies for most Californians.

Public water agencies serving the vast majority of Californians, along with state water agencies and environmental organizations, are presently working with the Newsom Administration to develop voluntary agreements to better manage the waters of the Sierra Nevada for both the environment and the economy. This would replace a top-down approach promulgated by the State Water Board. These agreements would be historic and settle decades-long water disputes, requiring water users to provide more beneficial water supplies for the environment and fund more expansive habitat restoration for fish. SB 1 could compromise this effort and hamper any flexibility in providing water for the environment and hundreds of millions of dollars for science and habitat.

Fortunately, the Legislature can address these concerns. The Association of California Water Agencies, along with a large coalition of water and business interests, have suggested amendments that would prevent SB 1 from derailing the voluntary agreements, while still allowing California to fully maintain environmental protections in the event of federal rollbacks. These amendments offer a reasonable path forward, ensuring the best for our environment, economy and water supplies throughout the state.

SB 1 intends to maintain the status quo, but on the Delta, the status quo is failing all interests. Over the last decade, fish populations have declined and water supply has been at risk. We need new solutions. A comprehensive approach to managing the Delta is nearing the finish line. But right now, SB 1 stands in the way.

If the Legislature does not fix SB 1, this bill won’t protect the Delta. Instead, it would create unnecessary regulatory uncertainty, placing both our environment and economy at risk.

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