Groundwater Problems and Prospects, Part 2: The story behind the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
Assembly policy consultant Tina Cannon Leahy, ACWA’s Cindy Tuck, and the California Water Foundation’s Kate Williams talk about the unusual and extraordinarily successful effort to bring the groundwater legislation to fruition
It was a indeed a historic moment when Governor Brown put his pen to the paper and signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act on September 16, 2014. Groundwater had long been considered one of the ‘third rails’ of California water, and some thought the day would never come. But that was only the culmination of an extraordinary collaborative effort that involved bringing together numerous stakeholders, not all of them supportive of the new groundwater legislation.
In this second of nine installments from the California Water Policy Seminar Series, Assembly policy consultant Tina Cannon Leahy, ACWA’s Cindy Tuck, and the California Water Foundation’s Kate Williams discuss what it took to move the legislation forward.
“Until January first of this year, California had the dubious distinction of being the only western state in the United States that lacked a system state-wide groundwater regulation and planning,” began Professor Richard Frank. “Until a few years ago, Texas joined us in that previous distinction, but following their own drought several years ago, even Texas adopted a system.”
The subject of the lecture today is the landmark legislation that, for the first time, creates a state wide planning process for California’s regulatory system for groundwater resources, he said. “We’re going to be talking about that legislation from a couple of slightly different perspectives. For me at least, it’s a fascinating story of how the planets aligned and how legislation in California was proposed and enacted that until certainly the summer of last year, most commentators and observers thought would be politically impossible to get that legislation done. As a direct result of the actions of our three guest speakers today and the different organizations that they represent, this rather enormous and impressive political lift was accomplished.”
Mr. Frank said that today’s participants were asked to talk about their perspectives on the process that culminated in the signing of the groundwater legislation last fall, noting that the next lecture would follow up with a more detailed discussion on the legislation itself. He then introduced the speakers: Tina Cannon Leahy, the principal consultant for the California Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee, and the Assembly’s primary expert on water resource law and policy; Cindy Tuck, Deputy Executive Director for Government Relations with the Association of California Water Agencies, who leads their government relations work in Sacramento and Washington, DC; and Kate Williams, Program Manager for the California Water Foundation; she develops, implements and oversees water management strategies and projects and was the lead at the Foundation to develop and promote passage of the groundwater legislation.
TINA CANNON LEAHY: Principal consultant for the California Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee
“Kate, Cindy and I had an interesting year,” began Tina Cannon Leahy. “I’ve been doing water law for over 15 years and I’ve been doing policy for five years at the Legislature. If you had asked me two years ago, if we could pass a sustainable groundwater act of any kind, I would have said to you, “Wow, that would be great! We really need to do that.” I think anybody would have said to you, “That would be great and we really need to do that. It’s just never going to happen.”
Prior to last year, groundwater legislation had been referred to as the ‘Third Rail of California Water Policies’ she said. “When they went to the permit system for water in 1913, people were talking about groundwater, and they couldn’t face it,” she said. “Each time we came back to it, there just was not the political will to be able to take on something of that magnitude. So, a little bit about what I’m going to talk about today is the difference last year that actually enabled us to get to this.”
Ms. Cannon Leahy then explained what a policy consultant does. “A Policy Consultant is an employee of the Legislature,” she said. “You work on a committee that has a certain policy jurisdiction, and then any piece of legislation in that jurisdiction comes to you for analysis. So, I do the public analysis of the bills that goes to the members, and then they vote on it in the Policy Committee. That’s sort of job one.”
The second thing a policy consultant does is arranges for information on hearings, which can be either informational or more of an oversight function where the legislative branch brings in the executive branch to ‘call them on the carpet’ about certain things, such as how is that law being implemented or why isn’t this being done, she said.
“The third function that we have is that we actually establish legislation, which is an interesting perspective for us because when we’re analyzing legislation, people are coming to us and they’re trying to convince us as to why something is a good idea or a bad idea and influence the analysis that we do,” Ms. Cannon Leahy said. “Then we have to put the hat on and be that person that goes and talks to other people about why that legislation is a good idea. And with this groundwater bill, I had to wear every single one of those hats.”
“I have to give the disclaimer that I am speaking on my own behalf and not on behalf of the committee or the assembly or anybody else,” Ms. Cannon Leahy added. “These are my own opinions.”
“The big thing that made the difference was the drought,” she said. “The drought really served to focus people’s attention on water issues generally, but on groundwater specifically. Groundwater is about 40% of local supply of water in California in a normal year, if there’s such a thing as a normal year in California. There actually isn’t, by the way, piece of trivia. When you’re looking at water years in California, there’s no such thing as normal. It’s either above or below or very wet or dry or frequent dry.”
In drought when surface supplies are not available, groundwater use is much higher – about 60% or more, she said. “People start to tap that groundwater and the problem that we have in California is we have been tapping that groundwater and tapping it really hard,” she said. “So, we were in state of overdraft in many, many places in California. It was manifesting in physical impacts; infrastructure was cracking, land was subsiding, and wells were going dry. … All of those dynamics were coming forward to really crystallize in the minds of everyone that we needed to do something about groundwater, and we needed to make it sustainable.”
Another thing that was a game changer was in December of 2013, the Governor released his California Water Action Plan, a five-year plan for building water investments in California, she said. “It had a lot of things in there – it had storage, it had conservation, water quality issues, and more,” she said. “But he did something astonishing. They put this language that if there was a basin at risk of permanent damage, and if the local and regional entities did not have the sufficient progress to correct problems, the state should protect the basin and its users until an adequate local program is in place.”
“Those were fighting words,” she said. “That’s telling you that if you on a local level are not going to manage your basin sustainably, we the state, we’re going to do something. We’re going to come in and assert our authority. And the State Water Resources Control Board has very broad authority under Article X Section 2 of the constitution against waste and unreasonable use of water. And so, the threat was that the State Board is going to come in and maybe start managing groundwater or take some action that it was a waste and unreasonable use of water to continue to deplete these basins.”
That was followed by the release of the Governor’s budget in January. “He didn’t just have a statement; he had $1.9 million and 10 positions for the State Water Resource Control Board to really make this happen,” she said. “That got everybody’s attention including the legislature.”
At the legislature, the object is for major policy initiatives to go through the policy process, but there are other ways do get things done, she said. “One way is through the budget,” she said, explaining that there’s the budget as well as a budget trailer bill, which is bill to implement the budget. “Now, you would think it would be straightforward; it might just say ‘this many positions and this and that,’” she said. “But that can grow to encompass a lot of things. A bunch of trailer bills can end up having a lot of policy in it, and it doesn’t go through the full policy process that a policy bill goes through.”
“There were already discussions at the legislature about how we might regulate groundwater, and this crystallized it for us,” she said. “We thought if we don’t move as a legislature, the Governor’s office is going to move and they might do this through a trailer bill.”
Ms. Cannon Leahy then briefly explained the policy process. “The bill originates in one house and it goes through policy committees for public comment,” she said. “If it passes those policy committees, it usually goes through fiscal committee again and there’s an opportunity for people to weigh in to refine that bill. It goes to the floor of the house that it originates in, if it’s voted from there, it goes to the other house and it starts all over again. So there are a lot of steps that you have to take input from folks and to refine a piece of legislation, and that is the process that we wanted any groundwater legislation to go through.”
So it began with Senator Fran Pavley introducing SB 1168. “She’s a senior member, and she felt that it was proper; she had engaged in the groundwater arena before successfully sometimes, sometimes unsuccessfully,” Ms. Cannon Leahy said. “She felt this was going be her bill, so she wasn’t exactly excited when Assemblymember Roger Dickinson also introduced a groundwater bill in the other house. Sometimes members they feel that they have their marker out there; that’s kind of their turf, this is what they’re going to do. And if another member comes in and they throw a marker out, sometimes they can feel infringed on.”
This was another moment where we were laying the path of success, she said. “The house wants to have the responsibility for getting that policy measure through,” she said. “By having a vehicle in both houses, both houses have a reason to want to engage, and that turned out to be genius. In the end, those authors ended up being co-authors on each other’s bills, and that sent a message to everyone that you couldn’t go around them; they were talking to each other, they were on each others bills. And the administration had engaged.”
Senator Pavley was working with the California Water Foundation and Assemblymember Dickinson was working with the Association of California Water Agencies, Ms. Cannon Leanhy explained. “They were able to bring an enormous level of stakeholders together and processes that they will tell you about,” she said. “They were the other piece that was almost unimaginable. An organization like ACWA came out with these recommendations for achieving groundwater sustainability, and ACWA’s a very diverse organization of water agencies. The California Water Foundation had been doing this incredible outreach and had come up with their own report, laying their own framework by talking to people and engaging a great deal of stakeholders. And Senator Pavley said when she was giving testimony on her bill, “This looks like the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote it.”
“It was one of those moments that was just, they took a brave and bold position on that, which was hard for them,” she said. “Probably I got a few gray hairs from that. It was very, very intense.”
“You had Assembly Member Dickinson working with ACWA, you had Senator Pavley working with the California Water Foundation, and at the same time you had the administration who actually came out with their language on the internet,” said Ms. Cannon Leahy. “If that sounds confusing to you, to the stakeholders it was a lot. You had two bills and a set of administrative language that were out there. So we ended up working together to bring the two bills and the administration’s language into one integrated set of language in the legislature. I have never seen anything like that happen.”
The administration was holding meetings, several times a week, even daily sometimes, with high level people, such as agency secretaries, deputies of agencies, the author’s staff, and technical staff from the legislature’s attorneys, and others. “We were doing this drill weekly, and toward the end you would get a call, “You gotta be on a call at 8 o’clock at night.” “We need you there tomorrow morning.” “We need you here.” “We need you there.” “We need you to look at this language.” “We need this changed.” It was incredibly dynamic.”
“I have never seen anything like this at the legislature where you had everybody rowing together with all the personalities that were involved, where people were extremely respectful of each other and extremely open to hearing how we could make this successful,” she said. “It was an extraordinary level of effort.”
“In the end, we got three bills to the Governor’s desk,” she said. “One of the cliffhangers was that we had our two bills and we had our integrated statutes. Usually the assembly and a senate will break for a recess in July, and the members go back to their districts and it’s a little quieter for the staff, but not our July. In July, we held four public meetings, they were attended by sometimes 100 people in a room and sometimes 100 people on the phone to take input into how we further develop these bills to be successful bills.”
“We came out of those meetings in August with our integrated set of language and almost got to the finish line and the Governor’s office said, ‘That’s not enough; we have stakeholders that aren’t happy with the bills, we need to make changes.’ We said, ‘We’re out of time to make changes.’ There comes a point in the legislative calendar when you can’t vote without extraordinary effort and you can’t make changes anymore, you’re just supposed to have a final bill,” said Ms. Leahy Cannon. “So they pushed for a third bill which was SB1319. The administration came forward with that final bill that they said whatever it is they had to have. And we integrated that third bill and then all three bills went to the Governor as a package, and he signed them, which was an extraordinary moment for all of us and here we are.”
“So, for me, it was the draft,” Ms. Leahy Cannon said. “It was the office themselves coming forward. It was the Governor coming out in the California Water Action Plan with unbelievably brave language that I think even shocked some of his agencies. It was the budget saying, ‘We’re not just talking about this, we’re going to make this happen.’ And, it was these two organizations working intensively with the authors to bring stakeholders onboard who are not your usual coalition stakeholders. So, it was a big tent effort and in the end probably the big tent effort was a success.”
CINDY TUCK, Deputy Executive Director for Government Relations with the Association of California Water Agencies
“My theme is really collaboration and leadership,” began Cindy Tuck. “When you look at legislation there can be very simple bills. An author wants to do something, he or she introduces a bill, moves it through the process and it’s gets it signed or vetoed. That’s an easy one. But, on the other end of the spectrum there can be very complicated bills, where the politics are complicated and the substance is complicated and that’s what we were dealing with here. Probably that far end of that spectrum. This Act could not be state law if there had not been collaboration.”
Collaboration sounds like a very friendly and fun term, and although we liked working together, this was not easy, said Ms. Tuck. “There was some fun, but this was very intense and just hours and hours of work,” she said. “It was a very challenging collaboration, but it was the key. If that had not happened, this law would not be state law at this point.”
“ACWA has been around for over 100 years,” she said. “We represent about 430 public water agencies. You may not think too much about where your water comes from, but it comes generally from the public water agency, and they are local governments. It can be a city. It can be a special district, for example. These public water agencies are local governments.”
ACWA members provide about 90% of the water in California for drinking water, agriculture, and the business community. “We’re organized around 10 regions,” she said. “We have 36 directors; there are two directors from each of those regions plus other members. And so they represent a state wide perspective.”
The state legislative committee takes positions on state legislation, and on that committee there are four members from each of the 10 regions, she noted. “This committee is set up to be fair to all members, so on this committee, an irrigation district up in North Sacramento Valley has an equivalent vote as Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which is a very large agency. And I like that. Everybody is on the same footing when they come to that committee. It’s a fair process for all of us.”
Bottom line, we’re representing a state wide perspective and that’s what makes our group unique, she said. “Our board, my boss, and I personally myself – we are trying to lead and move California in a positive direction for water management in California.”
Groundwater management is only one of the many challenges we face in water, Ms. Tuck said. “The drought really changed the situation at the Capital,” she said. “It was one of the drivers that made it possible for this law to be enacted. But it just shows the kind of challenges we face. From an ACWA perspective, sometimes people want to focus on one solution such as conservation or recycling. And representing water managers around the entire state, we say that you have to have a comprehensive plan. You have to be looking at every possible tool. So, when we talk about comprehensive water strategy; we say we need to conserve, we need to store, we need to improve management of water in the delta, we need to manage groundwater, we need to have safe drinking water, and we also need to work on our ecosystems and habitat.”
Groundwater is a big part of a comprehensive plan, and the drought has exasperated the situation, she said. “It’s important to note that there are many areas of the state where water managers have been managing groundwater in a sustainable way; there’s not a problem in every groundwater basin around the state,” she said. “But there are some significant problems and drought has exasperated that because when surface flows are limited, particularly for farming, they need to pump in more groundwater. So, that’s exasperated the situation.”
2013 was another dry year with more groundwater problems, and there began to be significant focus in Sacramento on groundwater management, she said. “When we talk about subsidence, we’re not talking about centimeters or inches; in this case we’re talking about feet,” she said. “Then you have concerns about infrastructure subsiding and this can have a huge cost to the state and to the local areas where it’s happening. So, there were major problems and certainly within ACWA, our leaders were talking about groundwater and how do we solve the problem.”
“So what ACWA did was lead,” she said. “So how do you lead? In this situation, it’s having the vision of what needs to happen. We can apply that in so many things … To be a really effective leader you have to combine with that vision the ability to make that happen. It may be you doing the steps or it may be you managing people that work for you to get those steps done, but you need to have the vision and be able to implement it and get to that outcome. And if you can do that in your careers, you will succeed.”
“So our leadership we want sustainable groundwater management in California, and part of that relates to having more local control and locals stepping up and managing the groundwater appropriately,” she said. “They said if there’s going to be legislation, we want to write what our suggestions and our recommendations for how to do this. So our board created a board level task force, not just a regular committee, so everyone on this task force was at a board of director level.”
The task force had core principles they started with, such as respecting property rights, protecting local control, promoting sustainable outcomes, and to take bold action, she said. “Sometimes in the legislature, it’s good to have incremental part in this,” she said. “But this was a case where they didn’t want just a little step, they wanted a real solution that was going to result in sustainable groundwater management action. So bold action.”
Timing was critical, Ms. Tuck said, noting that a normal ACWA process with a task force may take a year to a year and a half to get it done. And the Board agreed with the administration’s concept of giving the locals the tools that they need, but if they don’t act, the State Water Board could intervene, she said. There were references to a trailer bill, which is a much less transparent process, and we thought that the groundwater act needed to be public and go through the traditional policy process, she said.
“So what I said to our board was I’m so glad you’re going to be providing these recommendations, but if they are really going to affect legislation, you need to have them finished and approved by the end of March so that they’re ready to go for discussions in April because there will be hearings on bills on April,” she said. “That’s not their normal timeframe, but to their credit, they realized if they were going to be proactive, it was what they needed to do, so they stepped up and they did it. It’s a lot harder getting something done in four months than getting it done in a year or a year and a half, but they did it.”
The task force finished the recommendations in March of last year and they were unanimously approved at the end of March, Ms. Tuck said. “Our board doesn’t always have a unanimous vote on things, and to have a unanimous vote on this set of recommendations was historic,” she said. “From our perspective that was a moment of water history when ACWA board approved those recommendations unanimously.”
So we then shifted to a political process, she said. “Right after our recommendations became public, we were contacted by Assemblymember Dickinson’s office that he would like to carry a bill with our recommendations,” she said. “We were pleased and said yes, and so we immediately created a drafting team with several experienced attorneys and non-attorneys. By the way it’s always good to have non attorneys in drafting teams with attorneys.”
We had a negotiation team comprised of an ACWA advocate and attorney, an attorney with groundwater experience, and a board member who was a General Manager with a lot of experience in groundwater. “They were an excellent team who represented us very well,” she said. “When you work in this kind of process, I describe it as it’s your heart and your soul. When you go to the meetings, they are often multiple days in a row, they go into the evening and we have to come back the next morning. … You’re really giving it your heart and soul for that period of time; for those four to five months, it’s exhausting.”
“But it’s obviously very rewarding when something comes out of it,” Ms. Tuck said. “There were times when we all work on the bill and nothing that comes from it, and that’s the way it is; that’s legislature. But in this case, all the hard work really paid off. … There were a lot of versions of those bills, so from an internal process, we had to make sure our members were updated on what the bill said and when our committee took positions on the bill. We were also advising them of what to expect next, because by the time that bill was in print, the people who were negotiating all the details were already writing the next version. It was constantly evolving, and you really had to keep up with this day to day. If you were part of this, you were committed to the process.”
Ultimately, ACWA was able to have the language in the bills that allowed them to move to a support position, she said. “One thing about advocacy and Sacramento,” she said. “When you ultimately get to a support position, in effect, that means you’re committed to working at the capital for votes. So once we moved to a support position, we were in the halls working to get support votes for this measure, even though some of the organizations that we often worked with had opposed positions, and they were not happy with us working for votes. But your actions should be consistent with what your position is.”
There were several legislators who wrote the governor to veto the bill, she noted. “I just want to emphasize this wasn’t the end where everybody’s happy,” she said. “There were a lot of stakeholder groups that were opposed to it or up against it; there were legislators who were not happy. So it’s important to see the whole picture here. But for the stakeholders who worked on it and our respective organizations, we were all very pleased that it passed with time and it does set forth a path for sustainable groundwater management in California.”
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires formation of new Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), requires groundwater sustainability plans to be developed for high and medium priority basins, authorizes management tools for local agencies, defines time frame for accomplishing goals, and creates a state backstop. “The new local tools are empowering these local agencies to do things like register wells, assess fees, measure extractions, file reports, manage extractions, and these were all the tools that we thought were critical, and the administration and the legislature also thought were critical.”
“The last thing I wanted to mention is when a law passes at the legislature, that’s not the end,” she said. “Things then shift to an implementation phase. Our members are already working on implementation.”
KATE WILLIAMS, Program Manager for the California Water Foundation
Professor Frank introduced Kate Williams by noting that the fact that the legislative staff and the legislature itself will be actively engaged in the process is not surprising, nor the fact that stakeholders would actively engage is not a surprise. “What is new though, is that the non-profit community and non-profit organizations are only recently in the world of California policy stepping up in a very systematic organized way to engage in this process. I would submit to you that it still wouldn’t have happened without the active and thoughtful participation of the non-profit community as represented by Kate Williams,” she said.
Kate Williams began by first talking the organization she represents. The California Water Foundation was formed in 2011, and is actually a program within the Resources Legacy Fund that works for sustainable water management for California’s cities, counties, farms and the environment, she said. “We take policy issues, we take programs, and we move them through a policy forum, through a research forum, through a demonstration project. So we have a broad set of tools to work in, and we use them all in the groundwater world. The groundwater program was a key part of our program when we started. You can’t have sustainable water management in California without some kind groundwater management.”
Statewide, groundwater is about 40% of water use in normal years, and up to 60% in drought years – a significant buffer when it’s dry, she said. “You actually should be drawing down your groundwater during times of drought – that’s what it’s supposed to be for,” she said. “But you’re supposed to be then replenishing it during times of wet years, and that’s what wasn’t happening.”
Overpumping of groundwater was causing a lot of problems, such as declining well levels, subsidence and infrastructure impacts, ecosystem impacts, water quality degradation, and increased drilling and pumping costs. Wells were even drying up. “These impacts really laid the foundation for what we were facing and what we needed to communicate to get people to act,” she said. “Most of the people didn’t understand groundwater … there wasn’t a lot of attention on it and so, but impacts were starting to show up and we were looking for how to make those more understandable.”
When the California Water Foundation started the process in 2011, they believed that it was going to take a policy change to improve groundwater management in California. “It wasn’t going to be something that was technical research that was going to make the change, it wasn’t going to be administrative – it was going to need a state statue,” she said.
We could break down the challenge into these three components: political, technical, and communications, she said. “It helps you understand where you’re starting from on any policy issue if you see what your challenges are and really understand them, because that will shape your implementation,” Ms. Williams said.
The political challenges were many. Groundwater was viewed as the ‘third rail’ – impossible, therefore there was a lack of attention to it, she said. “There was a lot of focus on the Delta, there was a lot of focus on the bond, but there really wasn’t an active groundwater program at DWR at all,” she said. Recent legislative attempts failed, she said, noting that there were some changes in 2009, but they were weak.
The supporters were mainly environmental groups, and they weren’t even that stacked up to promote groundwater reform, she said. “We needed to build coalitions and we needed to look at the opposition,” she said. “The opposition was so strong. It was an agricultural opposition. Historically it would have been ACWA opposition on most of the bills. So, we had to work to see how to break that dynamic and see what kind of new coalitions could be built.”
In front of everything, there’s the feeling of anti-state regulation, she said. “Anything that you wanted to do, you had to really think, ‘If locals implemented it and they didn’t want the state to do it, they wanted to do it themselves.’ So that really kind of influenced the policy framework as well,” she said. There are multiple stage agencies involved in groundwater, and at that point, they were distracted on other issues, she said. “It was a difficult starting point.”
Technically, it’s a complicated and complex issue, and the problems around the state were varied, she said. On top of that, there was a lack of data. “There was no requirement to measure groundwater use,” she said. “There were no requirements to report your groundwater use. Every time it had been requested through legislation or some other form, it had been defeated. We were trying to promote change in groundwater, but we had a lack of data, and that really presented a problem.”
There were communication challenges as well. We’re going to try and make a big change in groundwater legislation, but we don’t know how to explain and show the problem, she said. “It’s not like a dry reservoir. I can’t put a visual picture of your over-drafting groundwater basin out there,” she said. “There was also no positive image. We didn’t have a fuzzy creature we were saving. We didn’t have salmon, and the subsidence doesn’t even show you a good picture. It’s kind of a blip up here and it kinda just looks lower. There’s nothing that really helped. We just had a lack of compelling factoids.”
“So what we wanted to do was reframe the debate,” Ms. Williams said. “With water in California, there are people that are always in their common positions and we were really looking to build new support. We needed to think about how to break up those old coalitions and bring new supporters in, develop compelling information, and build key support. That guided all the framework and the policy framework and the legislation and it moved us to a campaign strategy.”
So the California Water Foundation in 2011 started doing multiple reports. “We started in 2011 and we did multiple reports,” she said. “We really tried to document the problems with the current groundwater management planning rules and regulations, because if they’re not working, it gives you a better case for change. We tried to get the information about subsidence more easily understood. … So we were pulling a lot of information together in 2011 and through 2013 to get the data in front of people.”
The put an infograph together, worked to calculate the energy costs of groundwater elevation drop, looked at how many new well permits were going in and all these other big changes, she said. “The more you can tell the story, again, the more you can build your support.”
We spent a lot of time building key support, she said. “Early on, we identified who we should target,” she said. “We worked with water managers that were going to be most impacted by this legislation. … We didn’t reach out early to environmental groups. We didn’t reach out early to urban groups. It was mostly the agricultural interests in the Central Valley that we felt like we needed to talk to. We worked with those water managers in 2012 and into late 2013. They worked with us to build the framework.”
The California Water Foundation was then asked to do a broader stakeholder group, she said. “So with that we had business, ag, water agencies, environmental groups, and environmental justice organizations,” she said. “We did a report like ACWA did to get our recommendations out that was released last March.”
“It was this long history of building the data, building the case, and telling the story so that we can bring those stakeholders together,” she said. “It was a lot about forcing functions … the more we could say ‘the administration is going to act without you’, ‘the legislature is going to act without you’, it brought more and more stakeholders to the table. There was this sense that something was going to happen because of the drought and because of the water action plan that got more people at a table working on the solution than fighting it, initially.”
There are a lot of inside relationships and the drafting of the California Water Action Plan as well, she said. “So both behind the scenes and in public, we were working with all the key stakeholders,” she said. “We don’t have one interest and we’re not working for the legislature, it’s not just the water agency, and so we could bring this mix of voices together and do our best to try to stay on track.”
We tried to break down the barriers of who people thought were opposed to groundwater reform. “Every agriculture interest starting this was opposed, but if you ask the question, ‘are you supportive of sustainable groundwater management,’ we had 30 voices of ag, business, and environmental groups – a broad mix,” she said. “So we put a website together during the campaign so people had a place to go to see who’s saying what about groundwater and what the newspaper articles and reports were. It was like ‘everyone’s talking about water and they’re saying the same thing: sustainable groundwater management.’ And this was important, I think, for the media and for the legislature … if you can give that right message then you’re providing a forum for that information and an easy place to find it.”
They worked on a media campaign to get attention on groundwater problems and possible solutions, she said. “There are the million factoids,” she said. “We had to take these long reports and put them into clear messages. There was a lot of payoff to this. … It wasn’t that easy as you think, nothing was. Every article was about the drought and we were working to shift it to say, ‘The drought has impact; the drought effects groundwater. We were working to get the groundwater message back into the paper.”
As for the legislative strategy, it was really Tina and the team and the administration that did the bulk of the drafting, Ms. Williams said. “It’s not easy to write a policy framework, but ACWA and California Water Foundation did and we actually worked closely together as they were getting developed. A lot of common ideas were put together, but putting that into statute was very difficult; that’s when all negotiations and all the intensity of it starts.”
The California Water Foundation saw their role as one of the trusted voices, she said. “We were working with environmental groups, we were working with the ag groups, and we worked with water managers to keep them as informed on what was going on with the legislation,” she said. “We worked on moderate Democrats and Republicans to communicate with them about what was the importance of groundwater and what was in the legislation. That was more our target.”
“Tina called us the air traffic controllers,” she said. “Information would come in one day that some member has a problem and wants to know who supports in this area and it would come to us, or it would come to ACWA. We would go running around, asking people for their support and getting the information back out to people in the capital.”
“We never get everything we want,” she said. “When you get down to the details, there were a lot of negotiations and examples we exempted such as adjudicated basins so that was really key. We really want to target where the problems are first. … not everything can go in one bill. You try to get the best you can.”
Our communication specialists came up with this revised state flag that was delivered to every member’s desk. “This is fairly common in the legislature if you’re trying to get the attention of a bill. You might have some kind of a gimmick to get their attention,” she said. “We took the bear off. We took the green grass off and we put in the camel. It got the press’ attention. It got the member’s attention.”
Questions and answers
During the discussion period, Tina Cannon Leahy talked about how difficult it was with 430 legislators. “Have you ever tried to plan a dinner party or going on a weekend with a few friends and what did that turn into? So, imagine you have 430 members, and you’re trying to keep them all on board. It’s hard to impart the level of drama without not having actually live through it,” she said. “In the end, I literally had my binder with the statute in it and I had my cellphone and people were running to members of offices if they heard they were starting to weaken. ‘We have a problem with Joe Smith over here.’ And they would go in and they would talk to that staff person and they would be pumping them for what the issue was. And I would be getting text messages on my phone, and I would be running up to that floor with my binder to try to talk to them about why. … we were all doing this.”
“You’re right up to that finish line and you’re counting votes,” Ms. Cannon Leahy continued. “You know you have the vote count, the member’s names, you know who they are. You know what their districts are. You know what their issues are. And then you start to hear that you’re starting to lose somebody. … “
A student asked if there was a potential to open up well logs and make the data publicly available.
Ms. Williams said this was a topic of discussion early on. “Our sense is that there’s a lot of information coming out of the Act and the implementation of the Act,” she said. “Water agencies are going to be formed, they’re going to be managing and sharing data, so there will be more transparency that way. Whether it has to be a well log piece of information, or not, that helps people understand what’s going on the basin. The issue is that no one wants their individual well data to be publicized. It’s almost a religious issue now. Every other state has this public information.”
“The interest in the legislature is that when you drill a well, you record what kind of soils that you’re going through, you record where you hit that water level, you record what kind of construction of that well that you have, and cumulatively if you look across those over time, that’s a tremendous amount of information about the condition of the basin,” responded Ms. Leahy Cannon. “Other states have it online. It’s due diligence for somebody, if you’re going to buy a piece of property and you want to know how much am I going to end up spending on drilling a well, you look at the well logs around you and you see.”
“We’ve researched it and we’re not really sure how this happened, but in California, we made well logs confidential,” continued Ms. Leahy Cannon. “Members of the public and other entities cannot get that information, but some entities can. … What people said the last go round, and really I have scars of the last go round when the well log bill tried to go through, was terrorists are gonna get us. … And you just kinda saw all these really irrational kinds of arguments being made.”
“It’s worth noting that when you have a major law passed like we did this year, usually in the next year there’s clean-up legislation,” added Cindy Tuck. “So now the discussions in Sacramento are what types of legislation should there be … there’s already two bills introduced, maybe more introduced where there’ll be some changes to the text of the act. … there’s likely to be a bill on streamlining adjudication, that was an issue where this was interest was last year, but not enough time to decide whether that can happen in a legislation or not. So there’ll be a bill or two on that subject.”
To watch the lecture …
Coming next week …
Professor Richard Frank and Attorney David Aladjem go over the details and provisions in the new groundwater legislation.
For more from the California Water Policy Seminar Series …
This is the third year that Maven’s Notebook will be covering the series at UC Davis. Previous speakers have included John Laird, Mark Cowin, Felicia Marcus, Tim Quinn, Jay Ziegler, Ellen Hanak, Michael Lauffer, Ronald Robie, Harrison ‘Hap’ Dunning, Michael Rosenzweig and many more. You can access all coverage from all years in the archive here: California Water Policy Seminar Series Archive
Help fill up Maven’s glass!
Maven’s Notebook remains only half-funded for the year.