In their enthusiasm to pass the “historic water package” last November and create a Delta Stewardship Council to put things right in the Delta, lawmakers neglected to address the matter of paying for the Council.
To correct this oversight, Assemblymember Huffman presented AB 2092, a long-term financing plan for the DSC, to the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee.
AB 2092 requires the DSC to develop a financing plan based on the “beneficiary pays” principle. This will involve defining private and public benefits, as well as identifying both benefits and negative impacts of any action.
A variety of financing strategies will be necessary. Huffman emphasized that any new fees would be subject to legislative approval. Both supporters and opponents focused on this issue of fees. Delta county representatives supported the bill but noted that fees need to be proportional to the benefits received, and that there should be a provision for fees to be offset by previous work. Several upstream water districts opposed the bill, expressing concerns that they could be charged for downstream impacts.
The bill contains a provision for crediting beneficiaries who “prepay,” coming forward in advance with money to pay for “time-sensitive” projects. Kathy Cole, representing the MWD, testified that larger urban water users would be the most likely to make use of this option. Senator Alex Padilla expressed concerns that the “prepay” strategy might influence outcomes. But Huffman insisted that that kind of “undue influence” will be avoided through “vigorous oversight.”
Unfortunately, we have seen how much difficulty Huffman’s Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee has had already in overseeing the activities of the DSC.
Just to clarify one little point about beneficiaries: Huffman said that any diverter IN the Delta is diverting FROM the Delta. While his statement may be true in the grammatical and logistical sense, he forgot about a few codes like riparian and pre 1914 water rights, as well as the North Delta Water Agency Contract. Delta users are not beneficiaries diverting surplus Delta water. They are the Delta community, and the Delta is tied to their homes and their livelihood. Lumping them in with the State Water Project and Central Valley Project water exporters ignores a hundred years of California water law, and sets a dangerous precedent for blaming the victim in the mismanagement of the Delta.