SACRAMENTO — A bill that could save money for rural ranchers who divert water by easing a state regulation is awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.
The California Cattlemen’s Association-backed legislation by Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, would change a State Water Resources Control Board rule that those who divert more than 10 acre-feet of water per year hire a licensed engineer to install a water-measuring device.
Assembly Bill 589 would allow diverters to instead install their own devices or implement their own measurement method if they take a course from the University of California Cooperative Extension, CCA officials explain.
“We’ve been working with the Cooperative Extension folks in terms of getting the word out on this legislation,” said Kirk Wilbur, the CCA’s director of legislative affairs. He said the bill would be “one piece of relief” for ranchers.
“A lot of work needs to be done moving forward to lessen the financial impacts of regulations on ranchers,” he said.
The governor has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto the bill, which passed unanimously in both legislative chambers. While the UC typically doesn’t take positions on legislation, it supported this bill, said Larry Forero, a UCCE adviser based in Redding.
Forero believes the course would be helpful to ranchers. He said a two-day UCCE irrigation course in Northeastern California filled so quickly that organizers scheduled additional dates for the course.
“You can really talk about ideas and talk about concepts, and observationally I think I’ve seen changes on the ground just from what we’ve done,” Forero said.
“I think education goes a lot further than regulation on some of this stuff,” he said.
The legislation comes after the state’s water board in 2016 ramped up reporting requirements for California’s roughly 12,000 landowners and users who have rights to divert water from nearby streams.
The regulations require annual reporting of water diversions rather than reporting once every three years, as previous law required of senior right holders. Those who divert more than 10 acre-feet of water per year must also measure their diversions.
The rules cover all surface water diversions, including those under pre-1914 and riparian water rights. State officials said their aim was to provide more accurate and timeline information on water use in California.
The reporting rule was phased in, with large diverters with a claimed right to take 1,000 acre-feet of water or more per year required to have a measuring device in place by Jan. 1, 2017. Those with rights for 100 acre-feet or more had until July 1 to install devices, and those with rights to divert 10 acre-feet must comply by Jan. 1, 2018.
If Brown signs the bill, the UC will work with the water board in determining the information that will be provided in the course, Forero said.
In a related matter, the CCA and other agriculture advocates recently persuaded the water board to hold off on increasing registration fees for certain small-scale water uses, including livestock stock ponds and irrigation.
Under the current fee structure, registration holders pay an initial $250 and a renewal fee of $100 every five years. Under the proposed increase, the initial fees would have risen to $500 for stock ponds and $750 for irrigation, and annual fees would have ranged from $100 to $150, the CCA explained.
Wilbur said the increase would have severely impacted diverters with numerous stock ponds, for which the annual fee could exceed the value of the water held in the ponds.
Board employees will work with the CCA and other farm groups to come up with a new proposed fee structure, which the board will likely consider in 2018.