As farmers and cities complain about receiving fractions of their contracted water deliveries and Central Valley fisheries collapse from lack of flow, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) has declared there is ample water to supply new applicants. Following a 1 March 2011 hearing on a proposed permit, the State Board issued new water rights to the cities of Woodland and Davis for 45,000 acre-feet of water diverted from the Sacramento River. The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) strongly opposed the permit.
Both Davis and Woodland had allowed the groundwater, upon which they depend for domestic consumption, to become polluted. To avoid the costs of constructing facilities to treat water to acceptable water quality standards, they applied for a water right to divert better quality water from the Sacramento River.
CSPA protested the original application for water rights. The State Board held an evidentiary hearing (testimony, cross-examination and rebuttal, all under oath) on 18 January regarding CSPA’s protest.
CSPA submitted extensive written testimony buttressed by 40 exhibits documenting that the Sacramento Basin is over appropriated and that any additional diversion of water will further harm already degraded fisheries and water quality. Bill Jennings and Chris Shutes provided oral testimony during the evidentiary hearing. Mike Jackson served as CSPA counsel. CSPA provided additional comments on the draft order.
State Board documents reveal that the Board has already issued water rights to eight and a half times the median unimpaired runoff in the entire basin. In the recent Delta flow hearings, the SWRCB found that half of the unimpaired flow into the Delta was diverted upstream or exported at the giant pumps of the federal and state projects in the Delta and that 75% of Sacramento River unimpaired flow (and 60% of San Joaquin River flow and up to 75% of Delta outflow) was necessary to restore the serious degraded pelagic and salmonid fisheries of the Central Valley.
The State Board has essentially managed California water rights as a giant Ponzi scheme. Given the massive over-appropriation of water in the basin, the Davis/Woodland water represents either an embezzlement of water from senior water rights holders or a further reduction in the already inadequate amount of water provided fisheries lingering on the brink of extinction.
The State Board is incapable of telling applicants for more water that they’ve already given it all away. It is painfully clear that until the rights granted for water are brought into balance with actual available water – a process called adjudication – California cannot begin solving its water crisis or restoring the Delta and Central Valley fisheries and water quality.