Thursday, October 8, 2009

Quit Dreaming of Water

In 1995, the Pacific Institute published a report that summarized the condition of the water supply in California:
“California’s current water use is unsustainable. In many areas, ground water is being used at a rate that exceeds the rate of natural replenishment. This is causing land to subside and threatening some aquifers with possible collapse. The use of ground water is almost entirely unmonitored and uncontrolled, hindering rational management. Urban water use is inefficient and poorly managed. Agricultural policies encourage the production of water-intensive, low-valued crops. Environmental water needs are poorly understood and rarely met. Fish and wildlife species are being driven toward extinction and habitats are being destroyed by withdrawal of water, as well as by development.”

Though the report gained much publicity the public was not engaged and life continued as usual for most. The conclusions of that report are still true today only the need for action is more urgent. Planning for the future was pushed off. In their 2005 the Pacific Institute published another report. Pointing out that water demand and use exceeds sustainable supply. Mining of groundwater unconstrained by environmental or ecological limits will doom California. “The costs to the state of such a future will include:
• lost industrial competitiveness and revenue;
• destroyed natural resources;
• continuing uncertainty about long-term water supplies; and
• Further ill will among urban, agricultural, and environmental interests.”

The day of reckoning is nearer. Water wars are erupting in the state. The Pacific Institute is cursed as Cassandra. Right but never believed.

The State of California has routinely prepared water scenarios and projections as part of long-term water planning. The California Water Plan, a regular analysis published by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is the major guide book for water planning within the state. The latest version of the Plan was released for public review in January 2009 and stated:
“We must adapt and evolve California’s water systems more quickly and effectively to keep pace with ever changing conditions now and in the future. Population is growing while available water supplies are static and even decreasing. Climate change, as evidenced by changes in snowpack, river flows, and sea levels, is profoundly impacting our water resources. The Delta and other watersheds and ecosystems continue to decline. The state’s current water and flood management systems are increasingly challenged by legal remedies and regulatory protections, with economic and societal consequences. The entire system—water and flood management, watersheds, and ecosystems—has lost its resilience and is changing in undesirable ways.”

In August 2009 the Environmental Water Caucus published California Water Solutions Now under a grant from the Goldman Institute pulling together a unified view and list of recommendations from a diverse group of stakeholders. The report points out that California’s state water agencies cannot report on how much water is actually being used, where it is being used, where it is being diverted to, how much is being diverted, or how many diversions are illegal. Where it does have such data, the State Water Board estimates that the number of illegal diversions may be over 40 percent of the number of active permits and licenses, which also fails to comply with the law in many cases. Enforcement authority and resources are extremely limited, and violations rarely if ever receive a meaningful state response. Water rights enforcement must increase if we are to police the illegal use of California’s waters and ensure its beneficial use, in accordance with the state Constitution.

The state needs transparent and independent accounting assessing the sustainable water supply and water use in California. This will have to include monitoring groundwater use throughout the state. Sustainable use of water resources cannot be a voluntary program. The current water rights systems needs to be reformed. The SWP has never been able to consistently deliver all the water supplies on which its contracts were based. The main input to the Delta, the Sacramento River does not provide sufficient water for all the present claimants. The system cannot provide full delivery of water to the most junior holders in most years without even taking into account the recent court-ordered restrictions that protect endangered fish species.

Many of the conclusions drawn by the Environmental Water Caucus are difficult and painful, but the reality is water resources are limited. The report points out that 37% of all years since 1960 are drought years in California and in response local politicians, the Governor and Senator Feinstein want to build more major dams and canals to store and more water at a time when changing climate will most likely make less water available. Publicly subsidized farm water has created and insatiable appetite for more irrigation water. The true cost of water must be paid for and the mining groundwater to cover the water shortfall needs to stop.

Subsidized water has resulted in the unsustainable practices in the western San Joaquin Valley, which is an ancient ocean bed. Selenium, boron, molybdenum, mercury, arsenic and various other salts and minerals are highly concentrated in these soils. Irrigation of this land with water from the Delta adds enormous amounts of salts to the soils in the western San Joaquin Valley and requires the water wasteful “pre-irrigation” of the land to push down the salt level before planting. Only subsidized water could produce this behavior. These lands need to be taken out of agricultural production. There is no more water. Both urban and suburban water conservation must take place as well as agricultural water conservation, since agriculture uses more than three-quarters of the state’s developed water supplies, unsustainable use of water begins here. Reducing water use through conservation efficiencies and recycling will increase available water at significantly less cost than constructing new storage dams and reservoirs according to Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

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