May 22, 2012

In Bipartisan Vote, California State Senate Unites to Protect Water Ratepayers

California Senate members recently voted to approve of a bill to clarify existing language of California Water Code

California Senate members from both sides of the aisle voted May 17 by a margin of 31-4 to approve Senate Bill 1386, a measure that would clarify existing language in the California Water Code. 

The newly clarified language would make it explicitly clear that the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD) would maintain the sole responsibility for storing and managing groundwater in southeast Los Angeles County, thereby avoiding costly duplication of water services among public agencies. The bill was introduced earlier this year by South Bay veteran lawmaker, Sen. Alan Lowenthal.

WRD Board President Albert Robles said, "The vote by the California Senate will help water providers avoid wasteful redundancy and the unnecessary high costs that would otherwise be passed onto the ratepayers. WRD has been responsible for managing regional groundwater since 1959, so there's no reason to make things more complicated and costly."

Senate Bill 1386 provides necessary clarity regarding the roles of existing water agencies related to the use of groundwater storage. This clarity is based on long held responsibilities that different agencies provide. WRD, a public agency, is tasked with storing, maintaining and refilling the Central and West Basins from which water pumpers obtain water and provide to residents and businesses for drinking water. Other agencies, like the Central Basin Municipal Water District are designated providers of imported water from outside the region. As a result, imported water is about 4 times more expensive than groundwater. SB 1386 keeps those roles distinct.

Jim Glancy, Vice President of the Central Basin Water Association, said, "Imported water is becoming less reliable and the rates are rapidly rising. Having the ability to store water underground for later use by our residents is a critical part of future planning and increases the flexibility of local groundwater resources. This bill removes barriers by making clear each water agency's role toward achieving that goal."

According to Rob Beste, a member of the West Basin Water Association, "The bill will help the region maintain affordable water rates for the future by utilizing unused groundwater capacity. We are moving in the right direction and avoiding inefficient overlaps in service."

Long Beach Water Department General Manager Kevin Wattier said the Senate's decision "represents a huge victory for the region and the state. Having clarity in the language of the Water Code regarding water storage will avoid conflict and confusion, giving us the ability to store water in the few years when there is a surplus for use in the many years when we have drought. This will go a long way to reduce our reliance on imported water while assuring our water needs can be met."

The bill now moves to the State Assembly for consideration.