Sacramento, CA (October 16, 2017) – Late Sunday night, Governor Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 313, a bill introduced by Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) to promote fairness and due process in California’s water rights enforcement. Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) provided technical support in crafting the bill.
“The deck is stacked against the state’s water rights holders, and the State Water Resources Control Board holds all the cards,” said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore. “They act as the judge, jury and prosecutor of the water world with immense impunity and no accountability. When the scales are tipped, water users lose faith in the process. The Governor could have restored some balance to this badly-broken system by signing AB 313.”
The bill received strong bipartisan support from the beginning and passed multiple policy committees, including the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, and the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill was amended to include feedback from several water community stakeholders and environmental NGOs, and a broad coalition of water agencies and organizations across the state urged the Governor to sign it.
“Rarely have we seen such unity in the water community,” Gilmore said. “Clearly, the legislature agreed with overwhelming votes in both Houses that AB 313 is good public policy, and the Water Board’s decision-making process is inappropriate.”
The State Water Board currently writes the rules, initiates enforcement actions, then decides in its own court whether the alleged violator is guilty – with the Board’s own staff acting as prosecutors and Board members acting as the judge. AB 313 was a solution to the problem. The bill called for administrative law judges in a newly-created Water Rights Division to preside over water rights hearings, ensuring an objective, expert third party would adjudicate these complex, critically important matters. This approach is utilized by several state agencies and helps ensure fairness in enforcement proceedings.
“The Water Board has lost only one out of 2500 cases,” Gilmore continued. “How can anyone argue that we don’t need some checks and balances here? Isn’t everyone entitled to a fair hearing?”
In his veto message, Governor Brown said that he is “…directing the Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the potential role for administrative law judges and provide a recommendation on improvements to the Board’s hearing process…” AB 313’s procedural structure is similar to legislation the Governor recently signed for the Board of Equalization.
Assemblyman Gray pledges to keep pushing, saying in a news release, “The bureaucrats at the State Water Board have lost any and all credibility with the communities I represent. I will continue to pursue every avenue at my disposal to promote greater public transparency and expose this out of control kangaroo court of an agency.”
“BBID recognizes and appreciates Assemblyman Gray’s leadership on an issue that impacts millions of Californians,” said BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “We are more committed than ever to working with our legislative partners to bring common-sense reform to California’s water rights enforcement. The stakes are high, and we will continue to fight for fairness.”