As I continue to review the PPIC Report on MANAGING CALIFORNIA’S WATER:FROM CONFLICT TO RECONCILIATION, I continue to consider its recommendations and the impact of them. In my previous article: “PPIC Report Moves the California Water Debate Forward” I emphasized a need to utilize the report’s support of regional planning as a lever for political action by the Green Party of California and our supporters. Being such a comprehensive work, there are recommendations within it that have not been vetted through the process of public input, as a regional plan could be. Of particular concern, is Chapter 7 “Managing Water as a Public Commodity” and the section in it STRENGTHENING WATER TRANSFER LAW and the section MODERNIZING CALIFORNIA’S WATER GRID.
The intention of the writer and the PPIC in the section STRENGTHENING WATER TRANSFER LAW is to encourage “transfers from relatively inefficient or lower-value uses to higher value uses” p. 332. The issue of water efficiency is one that is often the focal point of those on both sides of the water use debate. Commercial developers join conservationists in promoting efficiency of water use. There is much to be said for this, but one thing that I discovered is that sometimes we really work against ourselves when efficiency is taken as a criterion for prioritizing water use. One example of this is when planners in the Middle Rio Grande of New Mexico measured water use from the implementation of water re-use with the computer model developed by Sandia National Laboratories, we found that the result was that there was a loss of water sent to downstream users that impacted on the Rio Grande Compact. In another scenario, it was shown that the lining of irrigation ditches resulted in a loss of groundwater recharge percolating to the aquifer. It was also instructive in observing that the biggest advocate of using water as an economic unit and focusing on efficiency as a determinant in prioritizing allocations was a commercial developer. It figures when one considers the economic use and per capita use in commercial development would be considerably more efficient than agricultural use or residential use.
The issue of transfers between regions is fundamental if California is ever to address the issue of sustainability in regional water plans. It was so important in New Mexico that the planning template of the Interstate Stream Commission used by the 16 planning regions in the state were premised on the condition that regions HAD to rely solely on their own surface flows, as defined by the Compact, and their own supplies of groundwater. This enabled the regions to develop sustainable water budgets and sound Public Welfare Statements, but it also drew the line in how the regions addressed matching water supplies in the region with water uses. California has attempted to enable regions to benefit from diversions and transfers from out of the regions. Further, private water banks could very well work against regional plans. Water rights sold or leased to them from outside the region are not consistent with the planning template. Further, this “paper water” in regions, where water rights have not been adjudicated, is often not substantiated with “wet” water and work against a sustainable and balanced regional water budget.
Sustainable water use and planning is inherently linked to reducing the number of diversions and restricting the transfers of water rights. Our savings accounts of regional water need to be reflected in our aquifers and our coastal waters. Our uses need to be defined by the management of those supplies effectively, and not necessarily efficiently. Our regions deserve the empowerment to make decisions based on their supplies, and their supplies only. When bad decisions are made by regions, bad consequences will result to those regions. When droughts reduce regional supplies, the regions need to adapt to the change with new priorities in THEIR water use. The argument applies to Los Angeles as well as Modesto. As it stands now, diversions are the accepted premise in implementing the “public trust doctrine”. This needs to change.
There are other issues in Chapter 7 that need to be addressed. I hope to alternate entries into alternating positive-negative aspects of the PPIC report and how we can move forward together in the state of California. As we explore the report it is incumbent upon Greens and our supporters to develop forums for discussion and begin the organizing tasks in the water sensitive regions, such as the Delta and the Central Valley. Our candidates need to begin to focus their campaigns on water planning issues and begin to mobilize public opinion around sound water management for California. Our water is our life. Every decision we make today will affect our children’s generation.