By Dave Eggerton, Executive Director of the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) This first appeared in Voices On Water
If enacted, water rights legislation pending in the Legislature could put water management in chaos and hobble future progress toward a more reliable and resilient water future.
Bills in the Assembly and Senate threaten to undermine the basic foundation of water management and water delivery in California by drastically changing the longstanding legal framework governing the right to use water in this state. Stopping these bills is a top priority for ACWA, which is leading a broad coalition that extends beyond the water community. Vital to all our work is the water community remaining united, because this may well become the most consequential legislative session of our careers.
It’s easy to see why.
California’s water rights priority system plays an essential role in supporting the state’s economy. It serves as the basis for which billions of dollars have been invested to capture, store and deliver water throughout the state. Undermining this system would severely impact not only local water management, but the state’s housing market, jobs, water affordability and our economy overall.
The reasons are simple.
California’s cities, communities, businesses and farms came into being and continue to exist in reliance on access to water rights. Local water agencies across the state depend on the certainty of water rights to invest in new water supply infrastructure. The credit worthiness of water agencies may be at risk if one of their community’s most precious assets, their rights to use water, become uncertain or unreliable. This can translate into higher interest rates on financing for water supply infrastructure, increasing project costs. Project costs relate to water affordability. As costs climb, projects may be delayed or canceled, which impedes the ability of water agencies to provide reliable water supplies and prepare for the future.
Not surprisingly, credit-rating agencies have begun to ask how these pending legislative proposals to change the water rights system could affect the reliability of an agency’s water supplies as they look to publicly finance essential, new projects.
Undermining California’s water rights system could also exacerbate the state’s housing crisis by unnecessarily constraining the water supplies of urban water purveyors. California’s water rights system ensures flexible water management, which allows water agencies to responsibly and proactively steward local supplies for current and future needs, both human and environmental. These bills work against sound water management to the detriment of the state.
There is a better way. Administration of the current water rights system certainly has room for improvement, primarily by investing in more stream gauges and better data and tougher enforcement to prevent illegal diversions. As the local water community, we must do everything in our power to convey to the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom the critical importance of not putting water management into chaos by changing the water rights priority system.
ACWA, its members, and its coalition partners must stand united to be successful in convincing the Legislature how important the water rights system is to all Californians. You can learn more about how you can engage your local legislator at www.acwa.com/water-rights
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