February 25, 1998
Two UFW-backed bills seek greater voice for farm workers and the public in water policy making
Arguing that farm workers have as much of an interest as growers in ensuring sound water policies upon which their livelihoods depend, the United Farm Workers has introduced two bills in the Assembly aimed at giving field workers and the public a greater say in managing local water resources. The legislation marks the first time the Cesar Chavez-founded UFW has become involved in water policy issues.
Assembly Bill 2344 by Assemblymember Mike Honda (D-San Jose) would delete a provision of state law allowing local Farm Bureau chapters in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties to control three of the seven seats on the Pajaro Valley Water Management District board. The district supplies all water users–agricultural, commercial and residential–in the strawberry-growing Pajaro Valley that straddles the two counties.
Assembly Bill 2722 by Assemblymember Scott Wildman (D-Glendale) would end a 41-year old state law provision exempting irrigation districts from the initiative process that applies to other state and local government entities.
"The future of farming and farm worker jobs depend on careful management of water resources," says UFW President Arturo Rodriguez. "That’s why farm workers and the UFW have a unique interest in ensuring sound water management. By opening up local decision making on water issues to more democratic participation by farm workers and the public, these two bills are the first step towards new policies that better preserve California’s water resources.
"Both of these bills are important for all Californians because we all need to more fully share in decision making about the state’s most precious resource."
"Preservation of our limited water resources is crucial for California’s survival," states Assemblymember Honda. "Everyone has a stake in sound water policy, and everyone should have an equal opportunity to have their voice heard."
Further details on the two bills follow:
Farm Bureau Bill–Under 1984 legislation creating the Pajaro Valley Water Management District, four members of its board of directors are elected from separate geographic divisions. Three others are appointed, one each by the city of Watsonville, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors and the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. But elected officials from the three jurisdictions must choose from lists of three to five persons for each seat supplied by the Farm Bureau chapters in the two counties.
"Overdraft–taking too much water out–of the Pajaro Basin and resulting seawater intrusion imperil the long-term job security of strawberry and other farm workers in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties," the UFW’s Rodriguez notes. The Pajaro Valley is considered one of the most severely overdrafted water basins in the state. Agriculture is responsible for more than 75% of the water withdrawn from the Pajaro Basin.
The UFW believes grower control over the local water district board may help explain why the agency has focused on searching for new water supplies–both from local projects such as dams and importing water from the Central Valley–rather than water conservation. "Ending Farm Bureau control on the water board through AB 2344 could encourage a greater effort to conserve water and protect the environment," Rodriguez adds. "Such solutions are needed in the long run to protect the water upon which farming and farm worker jobs depend, and to protect the public’s interests."
Irrigation District Bill–The state Elections Code was changed in 1957 to prohibit voters from using the initiative process to enact ordinances in irrigation districts. Almost all other state and local agencies are subject to the initiative process.
AB 2722 would end this exemption in the majority of irrigation districts where the "one-person, one-vote" rule applies. Qualification to vote in several California districts is defined not by residency but by land ownership. AB 2722 would not apply to these districts.
Irrigation district authority often extends beyond supplying water for crops. Districts can have power over flood control, sewage disposal, recreational facilities and retirement funds for district employees.
"Given the breadth of power held by irrigation districts, all residents–whether or not they’re growers or other land owners–are likely to be affected by district actions," Rodriguez says. "The majority of irrigation districts subject to the ‘one-person, one-vote’ doctrine cannot be distinguished from other special-purpose districts such as water, public recreation and fire districts where voters have access to the initiative process."
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