Valley Voices

Everyone wants to solve California’s water problems. Senate Bill 1 is not the answer

Aerial shot showing the San Joaquin River joining the Sacramento River, forming the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta area, northwest of Stockton. The fresh water then flows into the northern San Francisco Bay. Mount Diablo can be seen in the background. According to the California Water Atlas, 40% of California’s natural run off comes from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area.
Aerial shot showing the San Joaquin River joining the Sacramento River, forming the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta area, northwest of Stockton. The fresh water then flows into the northern San Francisco Bay. Mount Diablo can be seen in the background. According to the California Water Atlas, 40% of California’s natural run off comes from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area. Modesto Bee file

In their Fresno Bee op-ed (Sept. 8), Reps. Jim Costa and TJ Cox opined the remedies they suggested would improve Senate Bill 1 enough to make it possible for Gov. Newsom to sign the bill.

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

Unfortunately, SB1 is so flawed that if it is signed by the governor, it will set back progress towards excellent solutions to California’s infamous water woes by decades.

My call for a collaborative deliberation leading to a well thought out solution is a response to Cox and Costa. They wrote, “….There is no silver bullet to that will solve these problems, but what we know is this: all parties must be at the table; the legislative process must be transparent; the goals must be clear and achievable.” California water policy has none of the attributes the representatives are asking for.

The first step in this recommended collaborative solution is for Senate Pro-Tem Toni Atkins to withdraw SB 1 from further consideration. My read is Newsom doesn’t want to sign it, and he doesn’t want to veto it either. He’s faced with a very negative Hopson’s choice.

Join me in encouraging Sen. Atkins to withdraw SB 1.

Withdrawing her bill, by itself, won’t solve California’s water challenges by any means. But it would buy time for the collaborative solution I’m describing below to work.

Democrats in California and across the country are speaking out against SB 1. Assemblyman Adam Gray D-Merced said, “SB 1 is not just dumb, it is dangerous. We’ve got … to either kill or fix this wrongheaded bill. If we don’t, it very well could set back progress on our rivers for decades.”

In a July op-ed in The Bee, U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein noted she has joined with other senators from the West in co-authoring a bill entitled the Drought and Resiliency and Water Supply Infrastructure Act. If SB 1 passes, it would override desirable provisions of this federal act.

In addition, California Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, has stated she will vote “No” on SB 1 if sufficient amendments aren’t added. Probably the same for Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Parlier.

Most enlightened observers see SB 1 as a political attempt to poke President Trump in the eye by reverting water-use and allocation practices back to the final day of President Obama’s administration. If this extremely flawed bill is signed, this tit-for-tat will become widespread knowledge across the state and the nation, and it will be remembered in the 2020 elections. And it will further degrade citizens’ confidence in California’s lawmakers.

Here is a summary of reasons why SB 1 should not be signed:

SB 1 will continue the use of failed science for the protection of our endangered species.

SB 1 will ignore the best available science obtained over the last decade, while locking us into policies that have not helped fish, farms, or families.

We must ensure adequate amounts of water are stored for flood control and our next drought. Nothing in SB 1 accomplishes this.

SB 1 would put every California farmer at risk of criminal penalties for trying to follow federal law when federal law is different than SB 1 requirements.

SB 1 would freeze the badly outdated biological opinions that govern how water is used.

SB 1 will exacerbate the declining quality of (and increasingly unhealthy) drinking water, especially in poorer regions of the state.

Passage of SB 1 would negate millions of dollars and thousands of hours invested in cooperative agreements and biological opinions updates that were requested by President Obama’s administration.

So what is the solution. Here is a part one:

Sen. Atkins should withdraw SB 1 in favor of developing a far-superior successor bill that would address pending legislation like Sen. Feinstein’s, and most importantly, a bill that would adequately give voice to farmers’/ranchers’ and urban dwellers’ concerns about future water allocations and costs.

The best way to accomplish this deliberation is via a governor’s commission that brings all of the parties to the table and uses a proven-effective, consensus-based, decision-making process to arrive at a recommendation for a successor to SB 1. Space limits don’t allow details on how this collaborative process could work now, but Part II details will be published soon if SB 1 isn’t signed into law. Stay tuned.

William Hembree is the former CEO of Health Research Institute of Concord.
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