Resuscitating the California Water Commission

The California Water Commission (CWC) is one of those State boards and commissions that could have sunsetted ten years ago and hardly anyone would have noticed.

But it’s back, thanks to the 2009 Comprehensive Water Package.  The Legislation gave the CWC some responsibilities with respect to the water infrastructure envisioned by the water bond.

The commissioners have been selected (see Dan Bacher’s article on the subject from last May, and six of the nine met for the first time on September 28.  (Two have appointments that are not yet in effect.)  Anthony Saracino (director of the California Water Program at the Nature Conservancy) chaired the proceedings.  Joe Del Bosque (member of AgSafe, California Farm Bureau, California Latino Water Coalition and Western Growers Association) did not remove his cowboy hat.

Does the CWC have the authority to adopt regulations without voter approval of the water bond?  Probably not, according to DWR legal counsel, although they can certainly draft regulations for adoption later.

So what are they going to do?

Well, what did they do before?  The Commissioners were briefed on that.  The Commission was established by a 1957 statute, and its earliest focus was on development of the State Water Project.  When the initial construction of the SWP was complete in the early 1970s, the Commission did annual inspections and reporting on the SWP and worked on getting federal appropriations for regional projects.

Not mentioned in the briefing was the commission’s authority to condemn property.  As we reported earlier this year, the CWC has the authority to condemn land on behalf of the State Water Project.  Hence, it is a commission that must be watched with vigilance by the people of the Delta as Lester Snow (Head of the Resources Agency) and the Governor’s office continue to have secret talks with water users on building new conveyance.

DWR Director Mark Cowin briefed the commissioners on the 2009 Water Package and other challenges his department faces, including a new level of expectations regarding public outreach.  (The implication was that this is inconvenient and time-consuming.)

Signaling that this group may see its responsibilities a bit differently than the bond language does, Commissioner Saracino told Cowin that the CWC should be evaluating the NEED for water storage, in view of climate change.  Since Senator Cogdill, the water’s bond’s author and a major proponent of storage, will take his place as a commissioner in December, this should make for some interesting discussions.

The Commissioners also got briefings from DWR on the 2009 California Water Plan and on Industrial Process Water Regulation.   (The 20% by 2020 reduction in urban water use requires a special exclusion for water used by industrial water users for producing a product or product content, or water used for research and development.)

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