Governor Newsom and the Legislative leaders continue to negotiate a solution to provide clean drinking water to areas where groundwater quality is impacted by naturally and artificially occurring contaminants. CCM remains engaged with the Governor’s office and leadership to push for a solution that is comprehensive comprehensively, adequately funded and prioritizes rural and disadvantaged communities. Any solution that achieves these objectives is the best option to provide citrus growers protection against individual enforcement actions by the State Water Resources Control Board as occurred in Tulare and Monterey Counties.
The Senate has proposed a $150 million appropriation from the General Fund for the Safe and Affordable Clean Drinking Water Fund in lieu of the Governor’s proposal to place a fee on water users and agricultural producers.
The Assembly Budget Committee also rejected the Governor’s proposal, but unlike the Senate did not provide an alternative recommendation, instead deferring action to the legislative process.
CCM President Casey Creamer attended a meeting this week with the Governor’s office during which he indicated CCM’s support for the Senate Budget Proposal, a shift away from our previous position of supporting the Governor’s proposal, which is consistent with last year’s SB 623.
SB 623 was the product of many months of negotiation between agriculture and the environmental justice community. The proposal calls for a $1 per month charge on all water hook-ups and specified fees on fertilizers, dairies and other animal facilities to fund clean drinking water projects. Funding would be prioritized to rural, disadvantaged communities. In exchange for paying a fee, agriculture operations would not be subject to certain enforcement actions by the State Water Resources Control Board.
SB 623 was the best deal at the time it was agreed to in 2017 (and again in 2018), but has faced a significant uphill battle in the very tax-adverse legislature. Meanwhile, the Brown Administration made it very clear that the General Fund was untouchable and that any revenue stream would have to be generated through a tax or fee.
Now, with the Senate proposal on the table and a very clear signal from both houses that a drinking water fee remains a non-starter, the General Fund looks to be a realistic avenue for a clean drinking water solution.
“At the end of the day, this issue needs to be addressed comprehensively,” says CCM President Casey Creamer. “The Senate budget proposal creates provides a reliable funding stream necessary to ensure clean drinking water projects can be built and sustained, particularly in disadvantaged communities. With this funding in place, and provided growers are in compliance with water quality regulations, there is no incentive for the State Water Resources Control Board Office of Enforcement to individually come after growers to provide clean drinking water.”
The Budget Conference Committee and Leadership are currently in negotiations with the Governor. The Conference Committee is under a statutory deadline of June 12th at Midnight to deliver a Budget bill to the Floor for a vote by June 15th. If the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund is not included in the budget or if the Governor’s fee proposal is not adopted as a budget trailer bill, it is unlikely a deal will happen this year.