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Effort to change water rights falters in California Legislature

BY: CAMILLE VON KAENEL | 07/10/2023 08:08 PM EDT

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — An effort to change California’s water rights system is faltering amid fierce opposition from water utilities, growers and business groups.

Three bills in a package of water legislation will be amended or pulled, essentially ending what would have been significant changes to the way water is allocated and regulated in the state.

Why this matters: The legislation has ignited debate on once-taboo changes to water law. Under the seniority-based system, newer water users, including some cities, have to cut their use during drought before those with more older claims — typically agricultural users. That system faces increased strain as a result of climate change and urban development.

What happened: Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and opponents are nearing a compromise ahead of an Assembly hearing on Tuesday on Senate Bill 389, which would give the State Water Resources Control Board additional powers to verify whether water claims are valid. Opponents, including the Association of California Water Agencies, have fought to limit the agency’s jurisdiction.

Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) has agreed to change Assembly Bill 1205, her proposal to ban investment funds from speculating on water rights, into a study bill, her office confirmed on Monday.

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ (D-Oakland) Assembly Bill 1337, which would give the water board more authority to regulate the most senior, pre-1914 water rights, was pulled from the agenda for a committee hearing Monday afternoon.

What’s next: Bills that make it through the policy deadline Friday will have to pass by Sept. 14.

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