L.A. Times – Rights to California surface water far greater than average runoff ………. California WaterBlog – California water rights: You can’t manage what you don’t measure ………. SacBee – California allocates vastly more water than supplies allow, study shows
You have read the articles – California’s water rights are WAY more than the average annual runoff! The system is broken! Agriculture is to blame – gosh, those capitalist farmers and ranchers are using precious water to make…Food! Wood! Paper! Clothing! Flowers! A living, even Profits! It’s obvious that I am using sarcasm; larger corporate farms notwithstanding, it’s not a big income-earning concern. More people are leaving farms and ranches for easier work schedules and stable incomes, than are getting into farming.
“On some major river systems, especially in the parched San Joaquin Valley, the over-allocation is jaw-opening. On the San Joaquin River itself, people have rights to nearly nine times more water than flows down from the Sierra. On the Kern, it’s six times. On the Stanislaus, four.
“Water rights exceed average natural runoff on 16 major rivers, UC Davis researchers found last year. And they were only counting so-called junior rights — those granted after 1914, the last time the Legislature updated California’s convoluted water allocation system.
Based on the actual, not theoretical, effect of these water rights, we should be saying, “So what?” Why is that, you ask? For very good, practical reasons, as detailed here.
Decreed (adjudicated) surface water rights usually have maximum amounts, and reductions in supply are addressed by the decree specifying that lower priorities must shut off diversions first. If all are the same priority, then everyone shares the losses by taking the same percentage reduction in flow. Surplus flows can be diverted under many decrees, not under others, but availability of surplus diversions usually means flows are higher than average, and anyway they come earlier in the season, before flows drop in the summer. The great majority of these rights are for agriculture, which either feeds you and me, or is sold outside the State and adds to our economy and government coffers. I say, Who cares? Limits on the use of these water rights are forever in place!
Riparian water rights have correlative shares of the available water…and reduced supply means riparian diverters must reduce diversions correlatively. Sure, riparian diverters can divert as much as they can use reasonably and beneficially, according to the California Constitution, Article X, Section 2. But, So what? Who cares? The acreage with riparian rights decreases every single year, as parcels with riparian rights are split. The resultant parcels not adjacent to the stream no longer have riparian rights, except in the very rare case of a landowner getting an attorney’s help to deliberately reserve riparian rights on newly split parcels.
What about appropriative rights? Think about it this way: pre-1914 appropriative water rights were maximized in…1914! As World War I was starting, when the population was about 3 million compared to today’s 39 million, there were no more pre-1914 rights. Regarding these senior water rights, So what? Who cares?
What about post-1914 appropriative water rights? As Hamlet said, “Ay, there’s the rub!” Post-1914 water rights have grown steadily since 1915, as they were continually issued first by the State Water Commission, and then by its successor, the State Water Resources Control Board. These are water rights are junior to all of those listed above, and they are conditioned, or limited, by the Water Board. As shown during the last couple of years, the Water Board has the power to order the curtailment of some or all of these junior rights. I say again, So what? Who cares?
“Aha!”, say some, “You forgot that groundwater is making up all the shortage! And that all comes from surface water!” Yes, and in 2014, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was passed to address exactly that. It will take some years, but withdrawals will be more stable, by law, in years to come. There would not BE groundwater deficits if surface water could get around the Delta as it originally did with SWP and CVP. It is not for lack of money in the past to pay for pumps or even the planned peripheral canal, and it is not for the lack of technology to move the water. It is for environmental reasons that the planned volume of water does not make it to the San Joaquin Valley. But, that’s a subject for some later post.
Let’s be really absurd, and imagine that in California, the amount of water rights issued is ONE MILLION TIMES the average annual runoff!!! If the average annual runoff is 70 million acre-feet, the water rights are now 70 Trillion, 70,000,000,000,000 AF Per Year! Let’s all run around with our hair on fire! But, what does this really mean?
If we have the same reservoirs for storage, then no more can be stored. If there is half the runoff in a drought year, farmers, ranchers, cities, manufacturers, and other human users can still only capture and use a certain amount. Having no more plumbing – reservoirs and canals – means a lot of water is still going to be in streams, and making it to the Pacific Ocean. That’s “environmental” water for fisheries and other aquatic species.
If we have a record wet year, same thing. Humans can still only capture and use what the plumbing allows. A much higher percentage of water is available for non-human, environmental uses. Same Plumbing = Same Maximum Water Use, regardless of water rights.
Let’s flip the argument around and imagine a California in which the average annual runoff is five times the water rights. Put another way, total water rights are only one fifth the average annual runoff. What would the State look like then?
This would be a lot closer to the non-human, environmental paradise imagined by the left-leaning populations of our densely-populated cities. Scale back agriculture by a factor of 5, and then the rest of the State economy with it. We would look more like a larger New Mexico, maybe a Colorado, than we do today. And our 39 million residents? We would have more like 8 million, as we had in World War II. So, which 4 out of 5 choose to leave the State to bring about this flora and fauna utopia for the 1/5 that are left? What, nobody is volunteering to leave California, and donate their property to the Sierra Club, to make this greater environmental national monument happen?? I didn’t think so.