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California Democrats move forward bill to chip away historic water rights

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(The Center Square) – The California Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife today passed a bill out of committee that would empower the State Water Board to chip away at historic water rights and significantly reduce rural water allocations. Under SB 389, sponsored by Ben Allen (D-Redondo Beach), the California State Water Resources Control Board and its five appointed members would be able to review historic riparian and appropriative water rights to determine whether or not they are appropriate.

Already passed by the California Senate, the bill’s affirmative vote in committee is a strong sign the bill may become law. The main targets of the bill are holders of pre-1914 water rights who secured their water rights before a formal permitting and records process was adopted. By challenging water rights holders to provide exhaustive paper trails proving their rights’ legality and complete adherence to “beneficial use,” the State Water Board would effectively hold riparian and appropriative water rights holders guilty-until-proven-innocent, with their water, and their livelihoods, on the line at the board’s discretion.

“It gives a clear mandate to the State Water Board to start reviewing and determining whether these riparian and appropriative rights are appropriate,” said Nick Dokoozlian, a California Assembly Republican Caucus consultant covering the bill. “Their end goal is to upend the California water rights system to benefit favored political groups through unelected bureaucrats.”

Amid significant opposition from a broad coalition ranging from water districts that provide water to big cities, all the way to California farmers, bill author Senator Ben Allen (D-Redondo Beach) painted the law in a different light, focusing on how this bill is designed to ensure the State Water Board has the data it needs to best manage future droughts.

In his official statement on the bill, Allen said, “SB 389 provides information-gathering tools that allow the State Water Board to align a watershed’s reported demand with the diversions and use authorized under California law, thus more accurately determining water availability for all beneficial uses.

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