By: Ian James
Strong opposition in the Legislature has scuttled a bill that would have required agencies in California to release information about water use by businesses such as farms and golf courses.
With the bill’s demise in the Senate, water districts will be able to continue keeping confidential information about how much water businesses are using during the drought.
Assembly member Mark Stone, who backed the measure, said there weren’t enough supporters in the Senate to take up the bill for a vote.
“There are some organizations out there that are claiming that all this is intending to do is shame private users, give away trade secrets, which is nonsense,” said Stone, a Democrat who represents the Monterey Bay area. “There are too many senators that are afraid of what the opposition is saying and they’re not listening any further. So it’s a hard conversation to have right now.”
The bill, AB 1520, faced opposition from a long list of groups representing water districts, agriculture and other businesses. They included the Association of California Water Agencies, the California Manufacturers and Technology Association and the California Farm Bureau Federation, among others.
The bill had been introduced last year in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which Stone chairs, and was approved in June by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In its initial version, the bill would have made public information about how much water and energy is used by businesses and institutions. The bill was later amended to drop energy use, leaving its focus solely on water. But that change wasn’t nearly enough to win over enough supporters in the Senate.
Stone said he still thinks the public ought to have access to this sort of data, especially in light of the historic drought, and he will consider whether to take up similar legislation next year.
The bill was backed by organizations including the First Amendment Coalition, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.
In 2014, the First Amendment Coalition sued the Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency after they stopped releasing detailed information about groundwater pumping by large customers such as farms, golf courses, housing developments and resorts.
DWA later settled the case and resumed disclosing pumping data for businesses and organizations. CVWD, however, won the case in Riverside County Superior Court, with the judge backing its argument that the district didn’t need to disclose the data.
CVWD stopped releasing that information in 2014 after The Desert Sun published the names of some of the area’s biggest water users. The water district’s managers also denied requests for the data, saying they believe all of their customers are entitled to privacy, whether they are individuals or businesses.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, has argued that while state law makes clear residential customers’ data should be kept confidential, information about the large quantities of water used by businesses should not be kept secret.
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