On July 5th, CSPA joined with other environmental organizations in opposing AB 313 which would impede the orderly administration of water rights in California. It threatens water rights holders, California’s rivers and fisheries and the communities and jobs that depend on healthy fisheries. The letter was sent to Senator Jackson and members of the State Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Adam C. Gray (D-Merced), proposes to unnecessarily and imprudently restructure water rights hearings.
AB 313 would limit the SWRCB’s authority to enforce violations of water rights through administrative civil liability. Existing law authorizes the board to issue an order to a person to cease and desist from violating, or threatening to violate, certain requirements relating to water use, including diverting or using water, other than as authorized.
This bill would establish a new Water Rights Division within the Office of Administrative Hearings. The bill would require a hearing concerning the administrative civil liability to be held before the division and overseen by an administrative law judge. Administrative hearings regarding water rights are complex matters that require expertise. The State’s existing administrative law judges currently lack expertise on water rights which is necessary to effectively administer water rights. Members of the SWRCB are required to represent a diversity of expertise and interests to ensure they represent the public interest and are qualified to serve.
Under the proposed legislation’s newly-created Water Rights Division, the existing enforcement process would be fragmented and create duplicative and overlapping processes. This change to existing law would increase costs both for the State and water rights holders who are subject to the enforcement. AB 313 is estimated to increase State costs by more than $1.4 million annually due to duplicative hearings and a more inefficient enforcement process.