In the midst of a severe-to-exceptional drought, researchers at the University of California at Davis have found that California has allocated five times more surface water than the State has available.
The state has allocated a total maximum allowable use of 370 million acre-feet of surface water — more than five times the 70 million acre-feet available in a year of good precipitation, according to the researchers’ review of active water rights on record. The analysis was published today (Aug. 19) in the journal Environmental Research Letters.Needless to say, this lack of acccountability makes it virtually impossible for the State to regulate water usage, exacerbating an already serious water shortage.
The scientists said the California’s water-rights allocation system is complicated and backlogged, which contributes to the mismatched accounting. For example, people sometimes take water, apply retroactively for the right to use the water and continue taking it — sometimes for up to a decade — while their applications are pending.
. . .
Inaccurate reporting by water-rights holders worsens the problem. Some may even deliberately overestimate so they do not lose as much if cutbacks occur. The result is that in most water basins and in most years, far more people hold water rights than there is water. In the San Joaquin River basin, for example, water-rights allocations exceed the river’s average annual flow by eightfold.
“All those allocations mean that in times of drought, it’s hard to tell who should have to reduce water use, causing delays in issuing curtailments,“ said Viers, director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at UC Merced.
This lack of effective oversight is occurring during a time when over 80% of California is in severe or exceptional drought, and it has just been determined that at last 63 trillion gallons of water have been lost in the Western States to drought, and aquifers are under more pressure to produce than ever before. Water drillers in California's Central Valley, for example, are currently in a drilling frenzy, drilling water wells as deep as 2,500 feet (approximately the depth of two Empire State Buildings one atop the other).
Waiting for El Nino won't work; it has strengthened of late, but there is no guarantee it will bring a wet winter, or enough of a wet winter to make up a significant fraction of the water lost over the last three years of drought.
California desparately needs to overhaul its water use regulatory system, and to start a crash program in desalination. Otherwise, the end of water will come quickly, and hit hard when it does.