Water Wars Coming To California? Is The Drought Really Over?

Authored by Capt. William E. Simpson II - USMM Ret.,

In California, the poor growth and development policies that have resulted from a lack of vision have led-to and are continuing to lead Californians down a path of unsustainable growth and a widening gap between the demand and availability of critical resources, especially water.

This gargantuan problem is augmented by a growing financial crises in California as evidenced by an out of control and growing debt problem. All the while, many elected officials in the State along with Governor Jerry Brown are thumbing their noses at the Fed and losing Federal funding for cities that obstinately insist on violating long-established immigration laws. Of course this too is not helpful to the growing State debt, which elected officials will certainly cast-off onto the weakening shoulders of taxpayers using a combination of direct tax increases and other legislative and regulatory ploys that also amount to taxes and less money in the pockets of the People.

The term ‘drought’ has been used in reference to the severe water shortages that California is experiencing. But what is the real culprit or causation of the growing water shortage? Is drought caused by a lack of precipitation as most people believe? Or is the shortfall of water availability due to some other principal factor, such as water-use outstripping supply?

The recent record precipitation in California during the winter of 2016-2017 has certainly soaked the landscape, replenishing many of California’s reservoirs and in the process giving Californians the impression that the drought is over. But that is a misconception according to sources provided herein.

That misconception by the general public may let policymakers temporarily off the hook for their failed land and water use and urban planning policies, and allow them to continue to defer any much-needed remedial actions (constructing new dams and repairing older ones) to deal with what is in reality, a growing water shortage, regardless of recent above average precipitation.

The primary cause of the so-called drought, as defined by a shortfall in total water resources, is that the demands for water use by people, agriculture, industry and the environment, exceed the total combined water resources on average. As it stands today, allowing this primary culprit for the ‘drought’ to continue in full force and effect will accelerate the rate of ground water depletion with a continuing net loss of stored water in California’s major aquifers.

When the carrying capacity of any resource is exceeded by the demand on the resource, the end result is usually the depletion of the resource. Water resources are not exempt from this principal. In California even under ideal weather conditions, there is a net drawdown (loss) of ground water on an annualized basis.

According to Wiki:

California's interconnected water system serves over 30 million people and irrigates over 5,680,000 acres of farmland. As the world's largest, most productive, and most controversial water system, and it manages over 40,000,000 acre feet (49 km3) of water per year.[2] Water and water rights are among the state's divisive political issues. Due to the lack of reliable dry season rainfall, water is limited in the most populous U.S. state. An ongoing debate is whether the state should increase the redistribution of water to its large agricultural and urban sectors, or increase conservation and preserve the natural ecosystems of the water sources.”

I believe the foregoing ‘debate’ as it is outlined is completely wrongheaded.

The water debate in California should be about the policy of allowing unbridled growth combined with the lack of prudent land-use and water planning, which means strictly limiting further growth combined with immediately adding more surface water storage. If either side of the ‘debate’ as defined by Wiki wins, the problems stemming from unbridled development and population growth coupled with poor resource management will nonetheless continue to deplete total water resources and the remaining underground water stores in California.

And given the lack of respect by State policymakers for the laws of the United States and care for maintaining a sustainable population within the State, California policymakers foolishly discount the effect that 3-million ‘illegal’ immigrants now living in California have on California’s water shortage problems.

Californians on average use about 100-gallons of water per day, per person.

The math shows that these 3-million ‘illegal’ immigrants alone use 300-million gallons of water per day! So annually, ‘illegal’ immigrants use 109-billion gallons of California’s water supply. These ‘illegal’ immigrants are living in California illegally and are depleting water resources that should be allocated to our citizens first.

It seems that our State’s representatives don’t mind if ‘illegal’ immigrants allocate resources away from its own law-abiding citizens. And why would they care given their own actions where they arguably legislate the theft of private property rights from U.S. citizens?

Added to which, convoluted water planning and management policies such as we see in Santa Barbara California, seem like just one of many well-designed ploys to effectively take water from one group and send it to another group. Robbing Peter to pay Paul has always been a failing model. But of course we see the same with their fiscal management policies.

Poor planning and a lack of vision by State policy-makers have also led to other major debacles, which will certainly become more evident over time and further exacerbating CA water problems.

Best laid plans of mice and California water planners:

Assumptions made when designing California’s two main aqueducts are now proven incorrect. One key assumption was that enhanced surface water transfer systems would stop land subsidence caused by depleting the major aquifers.

According to the February 2017 article in Western FarmPress titled, ‘How land subsidence could reduce surface water deliveries in California’,

“As California's State Water Project was developed in part to address land subsidence from over-pumping, even the state's large canal is being negatively impacted by the phenomenon.

 

Two major California canals – the California Aqueduct and the Delta-Mendota Canal – have been significantly impacted by subsidence which the state says is caused by groundwater pumping in the Central Valley.”

A 2016 report by Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirms the subsidence of large areas of land over the tops of California’s major aquifers. In several key location the ground has already sunk as much 22-inches and in one basin the ground has subsided nearly 28-inches!

Now we learn that the State is eying the northern reaches of California and the water resources there as a solution to its own mismanagement debacle in the south and central parts of the State, potentially forcing other uninvolved stakeholders to pay for their grievous mistakes. And in what may be seen as a nefarious scheme, they have begun a program titled; ‘California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring (CASGEM) program’.

Overview of CASGEM

“On November 4, 2009 the State Legislature amended the Water Code with SBx7-6, which mandates a statewide groundwater elevation monitoring program to track seasonal and long-term trends in groundwater elevations in California's groundwater basins. To achieve that goal, the amendment requires collaboration between local monitoring entities and Department of Water Resources (DWR) to collect groundwater elevation data. Collection and evaluation of such data on a statewide scale is an important fundamental step toward improving management of California's groundwater resources.

 

In accordance with this amendment to the Water Code, DWR developed the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring (CASGEM) program. The intent of the CASGEM program is to establish a permanent, locally-managed program of regular and systematic monitoring in all of California's alluvial groundwater basins. The CASGEM program will rely and build on the many, established local long-term groundwater monitoring and management programs. DWR's role is to coordinate the CASGEM program, to work cooperatively with local entities, and to maintain the collected elevation data in a readily and widely available public database. DWR will also continue its current network of groundwater monitoring as funding allows.

 

The law anticipates that the monitoring of groundwater elevations required by the enacted legislation will be done by local entities. The law requires local entities to notify DWR in writing by January 1, 2011 if the local agency or party seeks to assume groundwater monitoring functions in accordance with the law.”

A cursory review of the CASGEM Map (page 6 of this PDF) shows that CASGEM has the most immediate impact on ground water areas that have been prioritized at or near the top of their list as 'high', which are color-coded in brown and orange.

According to another policy paper authored by some folks at Stanford University titled, 'Water in the West', the drought is not over due to demands exceeding rate of recharge:

“Prior to the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA), California lacked statewide regulation of groundwater pumping or standards for groundwater management. Unconstrained use of this resource has led to widespread lowering of water tables, land subsidence, and impacts to surface waters, groundwater-dependent ecosystems and water rights holders.

 

Groundwater extractions are estimated to exceed natural recharge at a rate of approximately two million acre feet per year (DWR Water Plan 2013), resulting in declining groundwater levels in many groundwater basins throughout the state.

 

The persistent declines in groundwater levels have led to many serious economic, social, and environmental impacts, and inevitably, disputes over how to allocate the increasingly limited resource. Given the new mandate for groundwater planning under SGMA, there is a major need to develop policy recommendations and dispute resolution tools that can help to achieve groundwater allocation decisions that are negotiated, equitable, sustainable, and supported by water users as well as other stakeholders.

 

While SGMA attempts to address many of these challenges by developing a statewide framework for sustainable groundwater management, many questions remain about how the law will be implemented, the effect that it will have on resolving current and future groundwater conflicts, and whether the groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) it mandates will be challenged through court adjudications.”

One interpretation of the foregoing summary of the report is that, the State failed to monitor and manage the central and southern California water use and the rates of aquifer decline until 2014, and have now labeled usage as ‘unconstrained’. And now we may have some of the same people looking to the northern reach of the State and the water resources there as a bandage for their self-inflicted injury. Any attempt to now control water resources on privately owned property in northern California is nothing more than theft of private property rights, and as such is intolerable and illegal. Generally, unless otherwise stipulated by language in the chain of title to private property, mineral rights, including ground water rights, are owned by the land owner.

This potential for the theft of water rights from private land owners is particularly ominous, and is particularly egregious while Gov. Jerry Brown remains obtusely resistant to the logic of removing as many illegal immigrants as possible from the State, while concurrently building and maintaining more water storage dams in California, as opposed to making deals to remove perfectly good dams.

So now that the south and central parts of California have gotten themselves into a real pickle, their solution seems to be ginning-up some policies and regulations designed to confiscate water from the counties up in the farthest northern reaches of California, and demanding that the property owners in the areas shaded brown on their CASGEM map give the State special rights which not belong to the State. How is it fair in any sense for one group or area of people (county) to deplete their resources and then feel it’s OK to take resources from other people or areas (counties) who have been careful and have conserved their resources?

This needs to be stopped! Or whose water (or land) will they steal next? Maybe yours?

It's not right to steal from your neighbors just because you live in the same State. Private property rights are just that, private, not public.