Do you think of Florida as short on water? I sure didn’t; I have been there a couple of times and got rained on every day or two. However, a University of Florida study on saving water concludes that if more conservation is needed, it’ll be easiest to get from those who already use less water. That study is summarized in this short article.
On the opposite coast, what does that mean for California? It means that voluntary conservation seems most likely to come from those who are reportedly conserving the most: farms and communities in the San Joaquin Valley, and agencies and homeowners in the Los Angeles Basin.
Does that mean that water districts and diverters in Northern California do not conserve? There may be less conservation, especially if diverters have a reservoir. Winter and spring flows are stored for later use. Those flows would have gone to a a river and usually, out to the Pacific Ocean. We’ll leave out the discussion of environmental uses of instream or stored surface water, except to say that they are one possible kind of use. There are usually some senior water right holders who have first call to the water, or who get a higher percentage during a drought.
How about irrigators who have little or no water storage? Since they depend on natural flows, droughts mean there is less flow available. It’s not voluntary, but the diverters share the losses, either
with lower priority water right holders shutting off first, or everyone taking a cut if everyone has the same priority.
The photo on the left shows flood-irrigation, which is the least efficient method and raises the hackles of downstream diverters, or just about anyone south of the Delta. Flooding allows less productive land in California’s mountainous areas, often with shorter growing seasons, to be used to for pasture to raise cattle and other livestock, or for hay which might be used anywhere in the Western U.S.
Even though not required, flood irrigation is being replaced over time with more efficient methods. Ranchers and farmers want to make scarce water stretch farther and irrigate more acres than flooding would allow. Land is being leveled right now to make
flooding go further. Sprinklers are increasingly used, so that less is diverted in the first place. Plain capitalism makes upgrades economical for the long-term. This isn’t an instant result, like voluntary conservation brings, but more water is available for instream and downstream uses every year.
These irrigation improvements are part of the reason that the State Legislators, Governors, and the State Water Resources Control Board have been careful about what laws to impose in the
upper watersheds. Many of the rights in the upper Sacramento River Basin are defined in Superior Court Decrees, and so are senior rights. However, the State has and still can make laws that reach back and change the rights in these old decrees. Many of you diverters on these streams have continually explained to politicians and bureaucrats that suddenly modifying or qualifying water rights can wipe out billions of dollars of agricultural production overnight.
So, yes, the fastest voluntary conservation will be had in the southern two-thirds of the state. And a lot of senior water right holders up where rain and snow fall, in the northern third of the State, may be experiencing the same or even greater percentage of involuntary reductions in diversions at the same time. “One size fits all” conservation may still not be equitable.
That’s enough on this for today. Let’s hope and pray that precipitation is higher than forecasts next winter!