California Groundwater Bills Approved By State Lawmakers

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A package of bills that regulate the state's diminishing groundwater supplies passed out of the State Assembly, paving the way for them to reach the governor's desk.

The controversial measures were opposed by rural lawmakers concerned about the state taking away private property rights without dealing with surface water supplies and how to replenish groundwater supplies.

"It's nothing but a regulatory take of our industries," Bakersfield Assemblymember Shannon Grove said during the floor debate.

Many lawmakers asked for more time so that bills be looked at more closely.

"These bills were largely written in the last two weeks and on such a critical policy we need time to get it right," Modesto Assemblymember Kristin Olsen said.

Rancho Cordova Assemblymember Ken Cooley agreed.

"Let's deliberate a little more. It takes time to work out the complexity issues," Cooley said.

But with the deadline for passage of bills approaching on Sunday, legislation would have to be reintroduced and vetted in committees for what could be an additional two years.

"We are going to continue arguing water rights until we have no water left," Davis Assemblymember Mariko Yamada said.

"We have people in the state who's wells are going dry, we can't tell them to wait," Assembly Speaker and San Diego Assemblymember Toni Atkins.

Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, co-author of a key bill, said the bills have been thoroughly discussed in open forums for the past year and that regulations would be crafted with input from local officials. He also said they would be phased in over a twenty year period with the most critical areas getting attention first.

"It's not new, it's not quick and it's not hasty. We can't use up all our groundwater, because once we use it up, it's gone," Dickinson said.

After some suspense when the roll was called, the key bill got five more votes than was required for passage. Several companion bills must go back to the Senate where they are expected to pass and then go to the governor's desk.

The governor is likely to sign the legislation after a bill was passed that included amendments he had requested.