A Senate committee on Tuesday approved a measure to add another layer of reviews for new well drilling in overdrafted basins. AB 2201 would require counties to run new well proposals by groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs), codifying into law an executive order from Gov. Newsom.

Asm. Steve Bennett of Ventura attempted to alleviate the many concerns from agricultural opponents by describing GSAs as “the most pumper-friendly agencies we have.” He reasoned that the local agencies have no opportunity to reject “new straws” going into the ground.

Representing several agricultural groups, lobbyist Jackson Gualco said the executive order has already led to confusion and a moratorium on new wells in Napa Valley. Gualco claimed that Bennett is “bound and determined” to pass the measure as is, despite the many concerns opponents have raised. He also shared first-hand accounts of counties and GSAs communicating with one another over well permits.

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Sen. Susan Eggman of Stockton, a former ag chair, voted against the bill, arguing it would drive small farmers out and leave only the bigger corporations that can adapt.

Bennet did take new amendments on the bill. Committee Chair Henry Stern of Canoga Park described it as no longer a bill reforming the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act but simply amending the water code.