Valley Voices

Senate Bill 1: Great intention, but still needs work to address water concerns

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, speaks during a press conference last March along the Friant-Kern Canal near Terra Bella to highlight her legislation, Senate Bill 559, meant to secure California’s water supply by investing $400 million toward restoring lost conveyance capacity on the Friant-Kern Canal, one of the San Joaquin Valley’s most critical water delivery facilities. Joining her were Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R- Visalia, left, and state Sen. Andreas Borgeas, R-Fresno, center right.
State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, speaks during a press conference last March along the Friant-Kern Canal near Terra Bella to highlight her legislation, Senate Bill 559, meant to secure California’s water supply by investing $400 million toward restoring lost conveyance capacity on the Friant-Kern Canal, one of the San Joaquin Valley’s most critical water delivery facilities. Joining her were Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R- Visalia, left, and state Sen. Andreas Borgeas, R-Fresno, center right. Fresno Bee file

During my first year as state senator for the communities of Fresno, Kings, Kern and Tulare counties, I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with two leaders who deeply care about California and our environment — Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Gov. Gavin Newsom. At the same time, I’ve experienced firsthand how policies developed around water issues affect everyone.

More specifically, these issues disproportionately impact my communities, a region that is often underrepresented and disenfranchised. Yet, despite our challenges, the southern Central Valley leads the nation in agricultural production and produces some of the cleanest energy compared to the rest of the United States.

So how does Senate Bill 1 affect the southern Central Valley? For starters, California’s water system, which serves 40 million people, is fundamental to the livelihood of our economic engine. To the agricultural community, water produces enough fruits and vegetables to feed two-thirds of the country. Furthermore, water protects our fragile ecosystem, which continues to recover from one of the most severe droughts.

For too long there has been a shortage of water and insufficient storage to capture water. As a result, both rural and urban areas have relied on pumping water from underground aquifers, which has led to serious subsidence problems as is evident with the Friant Kern Canal.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which is intended to restore these aquifers, was implemented a few years ago. While there is little debate about the need for the act, it will be, in itself, a serious challenge to the development of our region. Less water will be available for all the human and commercial needs that are essential to our communities.

The recent passage of SB 1 by the Legislature would have created more challenges for our region by reducing flows of water from the Delta based on outdated science. Like the governor, I supported the intent of SB 1, which was to ensure that California maintains high environmental standards, while protecting our public health. However, these are the very same reasons why I ultimately chose to oppose SB 1 in its final version.

Recently, the governor announced his intention to veto SB 1, which I was very pleased to hear. This veto doesn’t necessarily mean that a member of the Legislature supports rollbacks by the Trump administration; it simply means that we will create greater opportunities to extend further conversations. We must be open and ready to expand discussions on protecting our environment, restoring for our endangered species, and collaborating on science and water for our communities through voluntary agreements, which is currently being negotiated by the governor’s team and all affected parties.

The goal is for a partnership of water agencies, environmental groups, and the state and federal governments to establish new, innovative ways to better manage water usage in California. I am encouraged by this partnership and the opportunity for California to once again lead the way in how we protect and manage our resources.

SB 1 would have held the state into a single scientific approach, resulting in litigation that would have derailed these important negotiations. This derailment would have jeopardized the Central Valley’s access to safe drinking water and caused economic devastation to our region’s economy.

Newsom knows this and has provided bold leadership that gives new direction on how we interact and resolve differences to represent all of California.

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, represents the 14th Senate District, which includes cities in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties. She was born in Fresno and raised in Sanger.
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