Four years into a deep drought, California’s governor signed a mandate about water restrictions on April 1, 2015. The lowest Sierra Nevada snowpack levels in about sixty-five years prompted legislators to act. These are difficult times for meticulous groundskeepers in California.
In some parts of California, diners are now charged for a glass of water. High profile resident Tom Selleck reflects the local and statewide seriousness about water shortages. Rich and poor alike must obey laws relating to water. Some economic facts don’t make sense: Farmers in some areas can sell money for greater profits than actually selling food.
California’s Water Supply
Many people ask if the current restrictions are too little-too late to help and ask whether the laws passed to address the drought are fair. The current drought’s length may be short in comparison to a potential mega-drought. According to a University of Arizona study, (2014) the risk of a regional drought is as high as fifty percent. A mega-drought can last as long as thirty-five years.
Jay Famigletti, a NASA water scientist, opined in “The Los Angeles Times” that California had only about a year’s supply of water at that time. Contact an Orange County lawyer about questions concerning California’s water laws.
Water Rights are Complicated
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in presumed attempts to help, decided for the second year in a row to avoid sending any water to Central Valley this year. Farmers in the region are hurt the most by the action because senior water rights holders continue to receive water from the federal government. [Secondary rights holders are those whose farms have browned during drought.] Unfortunately, the State Water Projects will contribute just twenty percent allocation and therefore continue to pressurize state agriculture in the Central Valley.
The collection and use of rainwater on an individual’s property formerly required a permit. After the passage of the Rainwater Recapture Act of 2012, residents have been encouraged to purchase cisterns for rainwater collection in order to increase levels of usable water. Prior to the law’s passage, residents applied for a permit to collect this water.
Drinking Recycled Waste Water
Other people ask about California’s one billion water recycling investment in 2014. Water recycling allows municipalities to treat and recycle purified waste water. The idea of drinking purified waste H2O may shock some, but it is a less expensive option than funding ocean water desalination treatment facilities. The state reserved the one billion because voluntarily meeting the twenty percent water reduction cut seemed too drastic.
Revenues and Water Managers
Water managers in some parts of the state remain very well-paid: about one hundred fifty employees earn in excess of $250,000 a year and, sadly, 75 percent of the water districts who pay these employees as thinking about passing along increasing charges of water to their customers as revenues decline.
Both federal and state agents petitioned California’s State Water Resources Control Board earlier this year. Increased pumping of water from the delta between the Sacramento and San Joaquin River to Central Valley is the result of the past winter. Importantly, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, on record as opposing the pumping because of risks to wildlife, took the side of farmers in the area this year. Sadly, the Water Resources Control Board said no. As each member of the Board is selected by the governor, their decision stands.
California’s Emergency Drought Relief
Although California has earmarked one billion dollars for “drought relief,” about two-thirds of it is directed to the control of floods. Climate change can make weather precarious, but Californians are rightfully confused about why more of the money for drought relief isn’t going towards that end.
A future variable climate is likely as the effects of global warming continue. Agricultural research, farmers, and the communities they live in must develop flexible approaches to dealing with the ongoing problems related to drought. The state has developed “adaptation” strategies related to water use, but local and regional water management issues demand attention. Water efficiency is certainly important, but it is clear that many issues relating to the growth and harvest of crops are also critical concerns.
Jeremy Sutter is Apparently Apparel's newest guest contributor.