Just hours after passage of SB 1 in California during the final day of the legislative session, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he will veto SB 1 -- a bill that would have jeopardized the use of voluntary settlement agreements, or water sharing agreements, in the agriculture-producing areas of the state.
Although Newsom had communicated his support of the principles behind SB 1, the governor indicated that the bill would have also tied the hands of the state by limiting the ability to rely on the best available science to protect the environment. The bill ran into significant opposition in the final days leading up to the late-night session that spanned 14 hours, finally adjourning after 3 a.m. on Saturday morning. As reported in several major news outlets, the bill was met by opposition after "powerful farm and water groups," including Western United Dairies, voiced significant objections to the author and the governor's senior staff during the last several weeks.
In a policy briefing with Western United Dairies, the California Cattlemen's Assn. and others, the governor's administration communicated its position that the state maintains the ability to protect its natural resources and is doing so through the Water Resiliency Portfolio. The governor values the stakeholders who have come together to provide a unified approach, and it was clear that elements contained in SB 1 did not match that vision, Western United Dairies said in a legislative update.
Working throughout the evening and into the final hours of the legislative session, Western United Dairies and the California Cattlemen's Assn.'s advocacy team conveyed to the governor's office that SB 1 would circumvent the ability for the Administration to pursue voluntary settlement agreements that require all parties to come to the table to be part of a productive negotiation process. The legal uncertainties created by the bill would have inhibited the administration's ability to reach a collaborative solution that protects the environment and gives certainty to farmers, Western United Dairies stated. This point was echoed by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D., Cal.) and a group of California's Democrat congressional delegation in letter sent to Newsom and state Sen. Toni Atkins (SB 1 Letter).
The letter noted that as drafted the bill would freeze in place the state and federal water project incidental permits and biological opinions that were developed more than 10 years ago, regardless of whether more recent science or other related policies such as outflow requirements suggest modifications.
The bill would also require the Bureau of Reclamation to comply with the California Endangered Species Act.
“Given significant legal uncertainty over whether the state can modify the application of federal law, this provision would generate years of litigation and uncertainty over which environmental standards apply to the Central Valley project,” the letter stated. “In the midst of such fundamental uncertainty, it will be impossible to develop any voluntary settlements of Sacramento and San Joaquin River outflow standards.”
Western United Dairies thanked Newsom, his staff, the bipartisan group of assembly members and senators who opposed SB 1. “Western United Dairies remains committed to working with this administration and all stakeholders to find collaborative solutions to our state's water challenges,” the group stated.