Fighting against the tide – State senator worries about water rights
State Sen. Sam Aanestad on Monday attacked the idea of a Sierra Nevada Conservancy, fearing it will infringe on property and water rights.
Despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s endorsement of the plan, the Republican legislator last week voted against a compromised version of the bill, which would create an organization aimed at gathering grants and other funds to protect and improve the mountain range.
“It’s a huge land grab by the state of California,” said Aanestad, R-Grass Valley. “The most onerous part of it is the board will have control over all water rights. It’s a huge invasion on water rights.”
Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, is reluctantly sponsoring the legislation with the blessing of Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz. Leslie and Laird hammered out the compromise last week out of a couple of versions they individually introduced earlier this year.
Leslie’s Chief of Staff Jedd Medefind said he did not understand Aanestad’s fears because there is language in the compromise bill to protect water and property rights. Aanestad may fear what will happen to the bill before its finalized or be afraid the conservancy will allow water rights purchases, Medefind said.
Leslie recently told The Union he was not in favor of the conservancy but realized it was going to become a reality when Schwarzenegger threw his political clout behind it. At that point, Leslie said, it was better to mold the legislation than allow Democrats to control it.
Aanestad voted against the compromise along party lines last week in a Senate Appropriations Committee vote, which broke down to seven Democrats for and five Republicans against it.
The conservancy bill, AB 2600, is now headed to the Senate floor for debate and, if approved, will have to get the State Assembly’s nod and Schwarzenegger’s signature to become a reality.
“There’s not going to be a lot of Republicans supporting it,” Medefind said. “They understand what Tim is doing, but they are opposed to it in principal.”
The compromise includes a 13-member board with six seats for regional county supervisors to ensure land grabs do not occur, Medefind said. Leslie also got language put in the compromise that allows local governments to veto land acquisitions not supported by area residents.
Laird’s idea for the conservancy’s borders to go from the Pit River watershed in Modoc County to the southern tip of the Sierra and the Tehachapi Mountains was also part of the compromise.
In Leslie’s earlier version, there was a smaller area lined out for the conservancy that did not reach to the Cascades or Tehachapis. Laird’s original bill called for a smaller conservancy board that did not include county supervisors.
Supervisors from Sierra, Plumas and Lassen counties “are aghast at what the governor is doing,” Aanestad said. “It creates another agency with a board and staff that will cost millions of dollars.”
According to state legislature staff comments on the compromise bill, start-up costs for the conservancy could be $1 million with six positions in the office. Given the amount of land and work the conservancy would face, it would likely grow to the size of the State Coastal Conservancy with its 70 positions and annual budget of $7 million, the staff said.
Conservancies already are in place for the Lake Tahoe area and the western coast of California.
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