California surface water and groundwater laws are increasing controls rapidly, and the changes aren’t over yet. The end result will likely be that shortages in San Diego will reduce how much a license holder in Modoc County can take. It will probably take 20 years for the full effect…but 20 years is a lot faster than it used to be for farmers, ranchers, cities, and the environment.
How does this work? It is harder to see from the surface water side. How are the two ends of the State even connected, hydrologically? Some diverters up around Alturas divert from the Pit River, which flows into Shasta Lake on the Sacramento River, which flows to the Delta, from which water is pumped by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). Actually, DWR diverts water released from Lake Oroville on the Feather River, but that water joins the Sacramento River at Verona, before it gets to the Delta.
The federal water goes to the San Joaquin Valley, which is the southern end of the Great Central Valley and salad bowl of California. The USBR Central Valley Project (CVP) coordinates to some extent with the California State Water Project (SWP).
The state water goes partly to the San Joaquin Valley, and mostly over the Tehachapi Range to the Los Angeles Basin. Where the water goes from the CVP and SWP is carefully controlled by water rights and contracts.
What we don’t see with our own eyes is the groundwater picture. Groundwater pumping has dramatically increased during the last few years of drought, as news articles have made clear. Nobody’s groundwater rights are affected by the new groundwater laws, but every groundwater basin either has or will soon have a local management agency of some type. Maps of groundwater shortages will be in news articles, online, and where every citizen of California can see them. This is part 1 of a several-part post on how in the world, or in this case the state, groundwater shortages in the extreme South will affect surface water diversions way up in the North.