The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is considering
giving farmers the choice between planting crops or selling
their water rights. It’s a move that could pay off for a group
of large, wealthy landowners. The move came after supervisors
reversed an ordinance allowing farmers who quit growing during
the previous drought to plant crops Large landowners spent more
than a decade promoting water restrictions, banking and sales
as the California drought reduced the amount of water available
to farmers. Many of the larger landowners planted crops before
a restrictive water use ordinance went into effect. That locked
in their water rights and increased the value of their land.
Even after heavy snow and rainfall in January, western states
still face an ongoing drought risk that is likely to grow worse
thanks to climate change. A whopping snowpack is good news, but
it doesn’t reduce the need for long-term planning. Confronted
with a shrinking supply of water for agriculture, industry and
residential uses, water agencies have pursued different
strategies to encourage water conservation. They have nudged
customers to reduce water use, limited outdoor watering and
offered incentives to rip out lawns. … We know that it’s hard
to pay more for essential goods such as food, energy and water,
especially for lower-income households. Rather than raising
everyone’s water prices, we propose a customized approach that
lets individual consumers decide whether to pay higher prices.
As water interests in the Colorado
River Basin prepare to negotiate a new set of operating
guidelines for the drought-stressed river, Amelia Flores wants
her Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) to be involved in the
discussion. And she wants CRIT seated at the negotiating table
with something invaluable to offer on a river facing steep cuts
in use: its surplus water.
CRIT, whose reservation lands in California and Arizona are
bisected by the Colorado River, has some of the most senior water
rights on the river. But a federal law enacted in the late 1700s,
decades before any southwestern state was established, prevents
most tribes from sending any of its water off its reservation.
The restrictions mean CRIT, which holds the rights to nearly a
quarter of the entire state of Arizona’s yearly allotment of
river water, is missing out on financial gain and the chance to
help its river partners.
This tour ventured through California’s Central Valley, known as the nation’s breadbasket thanks to an imported supply of surface water and local groundwater. Covering about 20,000 square miles through the heart of the state, the valley provides 25 percent of the nation’s food, including 40 percent of all fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed throughout the country.
In the universe of California water, Tim Quinn is a professor emeritus. Quinn has seen — and been a key player in — a lot of major California water issues since he began his water career 40 years ago as a young economist with the Rand Corporation, then later as deputy general manager with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and finally as executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. In December, the 66-year-old will retire from ACWA.
This printed issue of Western Water looks at California
groundwater and whether its sustainability can be assured by
local, regional and state management. For more background
information on groundwater please refer to the Foundation’s
Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater.
Although some water districts have coordinated use of surface
water and groundwater for years ,conjunctive use has become the
catchphrase when it comes to developing additional water supply
for the 21st century. This article focuses on conjunctive use. It
includes background information explaining how conjunctive use
works, discusses the potential storage capacity, provides an
overview of the hurdles that must be overcome to develop a
successful project, and profiles several projects.
The 20-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Marketing provides
background information on water rights, types of transfers and
critical policy issues surrounding this topic. First published in
1996, the 2005 version offers expanded information on
groundwater banking and conjunctive use, Colorado River
transfers and the role of private companies in California’s
developing water market.
Order in bulk (25 or more copies of the same guide) for a reduced
fee. Contact the Foundation, 916-444-6240, for details.
The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to
Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of
California water rights law available to non-lawyers, traces the
authority for water flowing in a stream or reservoir, from a
faucet or into an irrigation ditch through the complex web of
California water rights.