Will the State Water Board Tear Up Paper Water?

Will the State Water Board Tear Up Paper Water?
Unprecedented Demand on Senior Water Rights Holders Ignores State has Overpromised Water 5.5 Times Over; Westlands & Kern Mega-Growers Continue Overpumping

Stockton, CA – Restore the Delta (RTD), opponents of Gov. Brown’s rush to build Twin Tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom salmon and other Pacific fisheries, today responded to the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) draft order issued Wednesday night demanding water diversion data from every riparian and pre-1914 water right holder in the Delta’s Central Valley watershed, starting March 1st until, well, whenever.

“This is an unprecedented move by the Board’s Division of Water Rights,” said Restore the Delta Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla. “The Board has never issued such a large-scale demand for water rights information before.” RTD has urged the Board to adjudicate all water rights, as the State has granted 5.5 times more water rights than actual water exists in a normal year. Rather than adjudicate the entire system, and face their own fatally flawed math, the Board has chosen to focus on senior water rights holders.

“The scourge of paper water is haunting California during this drought,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “While the Board probably won’t act quickly to tear up paper water, and make the priority system better and more responsive, they’re taking an important step by requiring everyone in the Central Valley of the Delta to disclose their diversion and use of water. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

The move comes after the US Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources charged last July 23rd that Delta water right holders were illegally diverting water reaching the Delta from state and federal reservoirs, a charge thoroughly rejected by Delta interests at the time.

Their diversion and use data are due to the Board on the fifth of each month, apparently starting with March. The Board also threatened to use its “authority to bring enforcement against diverters for unauthorized diversion or use in violation” of the state’s water code.

In 2012, Restore the Delta’s Policy Analyst Tim Stroshane, then a researcher with the California Water Impact Network, warned the Board that in dry times the Delta watershed would be way short of water to supply, compared to what water right holders claimed they had. “I found that in years of average flow, there were 5.5 times more claims to water than there was natural flow to support them. It’s called paper water,” said Stroshane. “During this drought, the claims exceed the meager river flows even more. So people are frustrated and looking for answers.”

In response to a demand for Delta diversion and water rights information, Bill Jennings, RTD board member and Executive Director of California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, told the Board in September 2014 that they could only make sense of Delta water rights and state and federal exports if they investigated the whole Central Valley watershed of the Delta. “If the Board wants to pursue allegations that Delta farmers are illegally taking water belonging to the state and federal projects, it needs to first determine whether the water the projects claim is being taken actually reaches the Delta, and whether the projects have legal rights to it,” wrote Jennings last September.

It appears that is what the Board intends to do in 2015. No stream draining to the Delta is spared in the Board’s call for diversion data. The Board’s action snags in its web water right holders from the far northern Sacramento River to upstream along the San Joaquin, and up each major tributary stream in the Central Valley, from the Feather River to the Merced. From the Anderson Cottonwood Irrigation District near Redding to the Central California Irrigation District near Fresno, all the mom and pop water right holders, and everyone else in between is subject to the Board’s order.

The Board does not directly regulate these water rights, but state law does authorize the Board to investigate any type of water right to ensure that the holder is diverting water within the limits of that right. US Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources operators told the State Water Board back on January 20th that “Sacramento Valley depletions are like a big black box” of diversions by Sacramento water right holders as well as the dry conditions and groundwater pumping there during the drought. That “black box” is the lack of data plaguing not only the State Water Board, but also the ability of state and federal engineers to operate the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project safely and effectively.

(Their discussion with Board members Felicia Marcus, Dorene D’Adamo, and Fran Spivy-Weber may be viewed at the State Water Board web site (between 17:45 and 29:36) http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/board_info/media/jan2015/swrcb_mtg012015_5.shtml).

CSPA’s Bill Jennings and State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus have in recent months spoken independently of the benefits of adjudicating water rights throughout the Delta’s watershed. Jennings threw down the gauntlet last August 13th, filing a formal complaint with the State Water Board “against unauthorized and illegal diversion of water by DWR and USBR at their Delta pumping facilities, and against USBR and others for unauthorized and illegal diversion of San Joaquin River riparian flow.” He was, in short, petitioning the State Water Board “to initiate, on its own motion, an adjudication of Central Valley water rights.”

By law the Board has 270 days (which lapses in May) to decide how it wants to proceed on Jennings’ complaint. “Unfortunately, the Board has a track record of rejecting complaints like this out of an abundance of procrastination,” said Stroshane.

Board Chair Marcus mentioned adjudication as a source of good data for managing water, in remarks she made to the Public Policy Institute of California’s “Managing Drought” event in Sacramento January 12th. “In the absence of data, everybody thinks someone else is pulling the wool over someone’s eyes. This year,” she said, “I would like more light than heat.” (Her remarks can be viewed (between 37:53 and 40:40) at, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3cPnr9ggss&list=PL0dHqeDiHCDVKDWOOTgYwFkZ0nZVsl-kJ).

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, February 5, 2015
Contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546; steve@hopcraft.com; Twitter: @shopcraft
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053 barbara@restorethedelta.org; Twitter: @RestoretheDelta

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