Assembly Bill 313 was approved by the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife. Committee members voted 13-0 to send the bill onto the next step towards providing solutions for California’s broken water management structure.
The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Adam C. Gray (D-Merced), proposes to restructure water rights hearings, creating a new Water Rights Division in the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). Currently, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) exercises quasi-judicial authority to hold water rights hearings. The SWRCB writes regulations, initiates enforcement actions, and conducts hearings in which Board staff act as prosecutors and the SWRCB itself acts as the judge and jury.
“Water management at the state level is broken,” said Gray. “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. The net effect is an ineffective bureaucratic maze which leaves us unable to capitalize on vital opportunities and prioritizes special interests working behind the scenes over good public policy.”
Under the legislation’s newly-created Water Rights Division, administrative law judges would preside over water rights matters. The new Division would conduct hearings and make a recommendation to the Executive Director of the SWRCB that the Executive Director can accept, reject or modify. The change ensures objectivity, while still allowing state water agency experts to give input.
Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) provided technical support in crafting AB 313, which has since been amended after its introduction in February.
BBID’s general manager, Rick Gilmore also joined Assemblyman Gray at the Committee hearing. After hearing testimony, the Committee voted in favor of sending the bill to the Appropriations Committee which will consider the bill in the coming weeks.
While AB 313 has received support from local water agencies, like BBID and the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority, it also faces opposition from groups like Restore the Delta who claim the bill will create more bureaucracy.