SCGA Public Affairs


Tuesday, May 14, 2024

It isn’t often that one bill can highlight all that separates one side of California’s great water divide from the other – from those interests fixated on conservation as the focus of future supply and those intent on pursuing a more diversified portfolio – from those who are often accused of believing that California can conserve its way out of its aridification predicament and those who are convinced that if conservation is the only tool in the state’s water resiliency toolbox, California is doomed to be hollowed out in much the same way rust belt cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit were in the last quarter of the 20th Century. A divide who some have the luxury of navigating by posturing, some are forced to navigate by the practical demands of their livelihoods, and some try to navigate by a balancing act that though once common, seems to have all but disappeared from today’s body politic.

The bill?

SB 366 (Caballero; D-Merced / Bipartisan bill / Co-authors in Assembly Essalyi and Rubio) – California Water Plan: Long Term Supply Targets – A bill that would revise and recast certain provisions regarding The California Water Plan to, among other things, require the department to instead establish a stakeholder advisory committee and to expand the membership of the committee to include tribes, labor, and environmental justice interests. The bill would require the department to coordinate with the California Water Commission, the State Water Resources Control Board, other state, and federal agencies as appropriate, and the stakeholder advisory committee to develop a comprehensive plan for addressing the state’s water needs and meeting specified long-term water supply targets established by the bill for purposes of The California Water Plan. The bill goes beyond the current approach to water supply planning by establishing specific targets to be met by certain dates and requires a financing plan for achieving these targets.

Click here to read the 11-page bill as most recently amended in the Assembly April 8.

SB 366 cleared the Senate floor in 2023 by a unanimous 40 – 0 vote but was pulled and made a two-year bill by its author due to the Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee Chair’s opposition to the setting of specific supply targets, a heartburn over targets very much shared by the Governor’s Office. Both were worried, and rightfully so, that a set of targets cum dates supported by a financing plan for the achievement thereof would commit the state to spending mandates it might find difficult if not impossible to fund, let alone complete.

We know what you’re thinking. The state has little problem fixing targets cum specific dates that vary from impossible to meet when they’re established to possible but onerously expensive to accommodate when the day of reckoning comes. Think SORE equipment, EV’s, industrial emissions of all types, fossil fuel phase-outs, electrification, etc. Of course, what those have in common is that the expenses incurred to meet them fall not on the state, but on the private sector, albeit various levels of government do offer rebates, credits, and other incentives to cushion the expense. For the golf community, think about the roughly doubled cost of that electric mower to replace the gas-powered one that is no longer available for sale in California as of January 1.

SB 366 would very much put the State of California on the hook for at least trying to develop a workable plan cum funding mechanism for meeting the targets established per the process outlined therein. Of course, when the stakes are high enough and the sector is big enough, target dates get extended. Think those nuclear power and natural gas plants that are scheduled to operate well past their decommission dates. Think those EV targets that are nowhere near coming to fruition by the dates established therein.

We know what you’re thinking. What about the golf courses, not to mention the “mom-and-pop” landscapers, which have to purchase much more expensive electric equivalents that often don’t work as efficiently as the gas-powered equipment they are replacing? Think, but do get over it. Feasibility and cost arguments that work when the stakes are high and the affected sector is enormous just don’t cut it when the sector is puny. Yes, we know that the California golf industry is a $15.1 billion enterprise, which is $4 billion higher than Florida and more than double that of Texas, according to the American Golf Industry Coalition (AGIC). However, that represents exactly 0.003% of California’s GDP. So, get with the program, buy the new equipment, figure out how to absorb the expense, and live to tackle issues that golf can and does tackle effectively – e.g., AB 5, AB 2257, AB 672, AB 1910, AB 1572, AB 3192, and the many common-sense conservation protocols and programs the game has developed in close collaboration with water wholesalers, retailers, utilities, and districts throughout the state.

The Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife has a new Chair in 2024, and SB 366 will be heard in that Committee sometime in June. On one side of the “divide” is the large and growing coalition of the state’s water providers/retailers/districts that understand better than most that they came perilously close to performing triage in 2022 and would have in some cases literally run out of water in 2023 had Mother Nature not intervened to bring them record precipitation in that year followed by a much better than average year in 2024.

The California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA) is the lead agency of the “coalition.” To read their 2-page “fact sheet” click here. To read their 2-page “benefits sheet” click here. Between now and June CMUA is planning to seek the support of those California sectors (e.g., business, agriculture, recreation) whose interests are very much on the supply side of the “divide,” those that while they may very much consider conservation to be one of the components of an effective supply portfolio, don’t share with those of a more puritanical bent the notion that California can conserve its way out of what many have come to refer to as our current state of weather “whiplash” – long dry spells punctuated by wet years driven almost entirely by atmospheric rivers whose waters are not now capturable.

On the other side of the divide? That would be some of the powerful environmental organizations concerned that we have not yet done enough to add to supply through conservation and worried that much of the supply created by means other than conservation will come at the expense of the environmental integrity of the Sacramento Delta. To them we would add those elected leaders concerned that any set of targets set by the long-term demands of the world’s 5th largest economy can only create funding demands that can be met by gutting current funding priorities. Depending on how one counts, California is facing a $43 or $73 billion deficit in 2024 that shows signs of only going up in the next couple of years – hardly a propitious moment for ambitious funding mandates.

Stuck squarely in the middle of the divide is the Governor. Chief executives don’t have the luxury of single-minded advocacy on the theory that someone or something else will balance their advocacy against the advocacy of those on the other side of various divides. They have to make things work, or if you prefer a phrase that was once considered beyond the realm of American respectability – making the trains run on time. Or as Gavin Newsom’s predecessor Jerry Brown defined the role – paddling down the middle of a great river, sometimes paddling left, sometimes right, in an effort to keep the ship of state from running aground.

On water matters Governor Newsom has been paddling “right” recently if one considers focusing on supply a rightward political drift. He is pressing for the construction of the Delta Tunnel and the completion of the Sites Reservoir. His State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has reversed course in favor of urban water use and supply with respect to the Rule effectuating his “Making Conservation a California Way of Life” executive order to the delight of the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) and the chagrin of most of the state’s normative environmental organizations.

Support of SB 366 in its current form would amount to not just another “rightward” shift, but one of considerably more consequence than the three cited here. And it would be a shift requiring the assumption of massive funding commitments. But there are reasons why every governor since the 1970’s, both Democrats and Republicans, have pressed for some form of Delta conveyance, whether one tunnel or two, and every governor has tried to rise above the parochial concerns of those on both sides of the “divide” through various balancing schemes that often seem like walks on a circus tightrope. And so, while we would be foolish to suggest that we have a clue as to how this will play out when SB 366 is joined in the Assembly next month, we would suggest that while the Governor cannot just say no to the coalition of water agencies bent on pressing the supply issue with specific targets cum funding mandates, he is not likely to say yes to everything contained in the bill, but rather use the power given him by the California Constitution to soften it into something that makes a powerful statement about the compelling need to develop a more robust supply strategy while deferring the attachment of specific targets to a dilatory process described but not necessarily prescribed in the language.

As for which side of this “divide” the interests of the California golf community fall, the audience that consumes these “Updates” doesn’t need our counsel to figure that out. As for whether the California Alliance for Golf (CAG) and the constituencies that comprise it will make clear that preference in the form of a formal public position, that is the subject of an internal debate already underway.

How all this plays out will tell us much about how many things in California will play out. We’ll do our best to keep you informed. Stay tuned.

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It isn’t often that one bill can highlight all that separates one side of California’s great water divide from the other – from those interests fixated on conservation as the focus of future supply and those intent on pursuing a more diversified portfolio – from those who are often accused of believing that California can conserve its way out of its aridification predicament and those who are convinced that if conservation is the only tool in the state’s water resiliency toolbox, California is doomed to be hollowed out in much the same way rust belt cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit were in the last quarter of the 20th Century.

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