A bill that would create a program to help farmers find new life for farmland idled by coming groundwater restrictions had its own phoenix moment in early September when it was simultaneously killed and reborn — this time with money.
AB 252, authored by Assemblymembers Robert Rivas (D-Salinas) and Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), died in the state Senate Sept. 7 but much of its content was reborn on Sept. 9 in a budget bill with $50 million attached.
That bill, SB 170, was passed and sent to Gov. Newsom Sept. 15 where it awaits his signature.
Salas and Rivas, along with State Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), held an event at the Kern Water Bank Sept. 22 to extol the benefits of the farmland repurposing program.
The original bill would have created a program under the California Department of Conservation to use grant money to find other uses for ag land in critically over drafted water basins. New groundwater pumping restrictions are expected to force up to a million acres of farmland in the Central Valley to be fallowed.
AB 252 was significantly amended in the Senate Appropriations Committee to remove incentive payments and make land repurposing permanent.
The nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, a sponsor of AB 252, heard from farmers that flexibility was important. Many didn’t want to be restricted to permanent land repurposing.
AB 252 had originally allowed for a wide range of repurposing options such as groundwater recharge, wildlife corridors, dryland farming and more. The amendments changed that part of the bill, limiting repurposing to wildlife habitat only.
In response, AB 252 was placed on the inactive file on September 7, effectively killing it. But some of the bill’s language was added to SB 170, a second budget bill.
The language in SB 170 will still create the repurposing program through the Department of Conservation and without the limitations imposed by the amendments. The program is more vague than the original bill though and will need some aspects fleshed out in the rulemaking process. SB 170 includes $50 million attached to the program.