California Drought

I don’t understand water use and public policy in California.

They are, by all accounts, in a severe drought that is not expected to lessen, and may become the new normal, see US Drought Monitor, NOAA:

United States Drought Monitor/NOAA

It seems like a relatively simple task that must be completed.  Not easy, but simple.  The state needs to ensure that water use is equitably priced across the state, or at least across areas of drought (which is pretty much the entire state anyway).  Equitably, meaning that all water use carries a price, and that price is not much different regardless of the water source or the end use.  “Not much different” would have to be determined by, most likely, the state.  In addition, water use, for instance, from private wells, would have to somehow be determined.  The underground aquifers that private wells tap are, at this point, a vital public resource.  This is kind of a definitional reason to have government at all.

It’s unclear that anything remotely like this is being considered at this point.  Here’s how water is actually used in California, info from Public Policy Institute of California:


So, if you exclude environmental water use, “Urban,” which includes all the landscaping, is about 20% of the remaining water use, and Agriculture is the other 80%.

And yet, here’s what the governor is doing, as of April 1:

Save Water

For the first time in state history, the Governor has directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. This savings amounts to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, or nearly as much as is currently in Lake Oroville.

To save more water now, the order will also:

-Replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping in partnership with local governments;
-Direct the creation of a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with more water and energy efficient models;
-Require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water use; and
-Prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used, and ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.

Increase Enforcement

The Governor’s order calls on local water agencies to adjust their rate structures to implement conservation pricing, recognized as an effective way to realize water reductions and discourage water waste.

Agricultural water users – which have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocations and thousands of farmworkers laid off – will be required to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state’s ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water under today’s order. Additionally, the Governor’s action strengthens standards for Agricultural Water Management Plans submitted by large agriculture water districts and requires small agriculture water districts to develop similar plans. These plans will help ensure that agricultural communities are prepared in case the drought extends into 2016.

So, they are going to ask the users of 20% to reduce by 25% of that, saving 5% of the total.  And they are going to ask the users of 80% to please try to make some reports about their water usage?  I can see how a third generation dairy farmer, using his own wells, would find the imposition of taxes or fines around water usage to be an outrageous encroachment of state authority on his freedom.   Same with the almond farmer, watering her well established trees.

The least unfair way to allocate water is going to be with a market for the water.



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