Greedy Environment Steals California’s Water

May 6, 2015 - Essential Water

There’s this thing called “the environment,” and it’s regulating adult as many as half of California’s wanting water. Pretty greedy, huh?

This is one approach to appreciate a California Department of Water Resources’ data on how H2O is used in a state. Here’s a relapse on normal H2O use from 2001 by 2010:


Add together a 4 environmental categories and we get 47 percent — some-more in some years. People in California rural circles like these numbers a lot improved than a 80 percent agriculture, 20 percent civic water-use relapse customarily cited in a media.  But what accurately does it meant that “the environment” uses 50 percent of California’s water?

Writing in a National Review a integrate of weeks ago, Devin Nunes, a U.S. deputy from a Central Valley plantation city of Tulare, put it like this:

Farmers do not use 80 percent of California’s water. In reality, 50 percent of a H2O that is prisoner by a state’s dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, and other infrastructure is diverted for environmental causes. Farmers, in fact, use 40 percent of a H2O supply.

That second judgment is incorrect, unless we count teeming rivers as partial of that state “infrastructure.” The denominator here is all a H2O used by California’s residents, businesses and farms (of that cultivation takes about 80 percent and metropolitan and industrial users about 20 percent), and all other H2O flows on that a state has identified some arrange of authorised claim, mostly for functions of environmental protection. It’s not that a H2O is “diverted for environmental causes.” It’s that it is not diverted to farms and cities, mostly for environmental reasons. 

Still, H2O is water, and it is undoubted that if hadn’t been for a arise of environmental transformation in a 1970s, some-more of it substantially would be issuing to a state’s farms and cities instead of out to sea. From a 1850s by a 1970s, California emptied a swamps, dammed a rivers and built prolonged aqueducts and pipelines to pierce H2O from where it was abounding  to where it was not. Since a argumentative execution of a New Melones Dam on a Stanislaus River in 1978, though, this good California H2O growth appurtenance has mostly belligerent to a halt, and in some cases even left into reverse. As a outcome there are those, such as Republican presidential claimant Carly Fiorina, who blame a state’s H2O shortages on “overzealous magnanimous environmentalists who continue to amalgamate a lives and livelihoods of California residents in bureau of their possess agenda.”

In a face of such rhetoric, it’s value holding register of where all a environmental H2O unequivocally is going, and what would be endangered in wresting it divided for a advantage of Central Valley farmers and Orange County lawn-waterers. As we can see from a above chart, by distant a biggest environmental use of H2O is for Wild Scenic Rivers — rivers, streams or segments thereof that have been designated by a state, a sovereign supervision or both as too good to dam. Dig a small deeper into a 2013 California Water Plan Update, and we find that 93 percent of this H2O use transpires along California’s really soppy northern coast, that is distant from a Central Valley and a H2O infrastructure by towering ranges that get aloft and some-more imperishable as we conduct north.

The 3 biggest rivers that upsurge into a Pacific along a northern seashore are a Klamath, a Eel and a Smith. In a 1950s and 1960s there were indeterminate skeleton to dam all 3 and send a H2O south. A vital Klamath tributary, a Trinity River, was in fact dammed in 1962 and many of a H2O diverted into a sovereign Central Valley Project.

The Eel River also came tighten to being dammed after a harmful inundate in 1964. But Ronald Reagan, who became administrator in 1967, refused to give a go-ahead. The plcae envisioned for a dam, while flattering good for water-supply purposes, would have been small assistance opposite floods, and it was tough to block a costs of a projects with a expected benefits. What’s more, a dam would have flooded an Indian reservation. “We’ve damaged adequate treaties with a Indians already,” Reagan reportedly pronounced during a time. In 1973, after California upheld a Wild Scenic Rivers law, Reagan combined a Eel to a list.

Reagan’s inheritor as governor, Jerry Brown, done augmenting commitments to strengthen northern California rivers in his try to pattern support for a Peripheral Canal (more on that in a moment). As partial of this campaign, he asked Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus to appropriate a Eel, a Klamath and a Smith as sovereign Wild Scenic Rivers — definition it would take an act of Congress to dam them. Andrus complied only before withdrawal bureau in 1981.

So … 3 estimable California rivers have been announced effectively off boundary for reasons both mercantile and environmental. we don’t consider anybody, including Nunes or Fiorina, is severely campaigning to dam them. we didn’t hear a singular Central Valley rancher move this adult during my revisit final week.

That leaves another 16.9 percent of a state’s H2O to demeanour at. Managed wetlands are only 1.4 percent, many of it along a before really muddy Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries in a Central Valley, and they don’t seem to be extravagantly argumentative — some are indeed managed by farmers. As for a some-more estimable instream-flow mandate (5.8 percent) for appetite production, celebration H2O peculiarity and fish protection, roughly half of those are in north seashore rivers and thus aren’t accessible to Central Valley and Southern California H2O users. The requirements are also fortuitous on how many H2O there is, and tend to dump neatly in drought years. This is really something that Central Valley farmers protest about, though we have not seen justification that it’s been a outrageous empty on H2O resources during a drought.

It is the “required delta outflow,” that accounted for 9.7 percent of a state’s H2O from 2001 by 2010, that is a good source of controversy. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is where a Central Valley’s dual large rivers accommodate before issuing into a San Francisco Bay;  water from northern California reservoirs also has to pass by it to get to farmers and cities to a south. Here’s a state Water Resources Control Board’s tally of a uses for a 6 million acre-feet of H2O that flowed out of a delta in a 2014 H2O year :


The “hydraulic barrier” is uninformed H2O flows clinging to gripping salt H2O from a San Francisco Bay out of a delta. Before a sovereign Central Valley Project started storing H2O behind Shasta Dam in 1944 for recover during a summer, salt H2O intruded low into a delta once each few summers. Using H2O stored in sovereign reservoirs to forestall that from function was a vital offered indicate of Central Valley Project for delta farmers. It is also essential to gripping salt H2O from infiltrating a pumps that send H2O south from a delta. So it’s a small tough to see that as H2O being “diverted for environmental causes.”

It’s a opposite story with a “additional fanciful exports,” 747,000 acre-feet of H2O in 2014 that could have been pumped from a delta though risking salt-water intrusion though wasn’t pumped especially since of sovereign biologists’ concerns about what this would do to fish, involved delta melt in particular. The large mislaid opportunities come when a deluge floods a delta with uninformed H2O — and even in a drought, this still happens a few of times each winter. You can get a improved design of it from this chart:

delta graph

Farmers south of a delta find this enormously frustrating. The water’s there in a delta, though it can’t be pumped south because of concerns about an involved fish that may good be doomed for reasons carrying small to do with a pumps. The Peripheral Canal was meant in partial as a approach around this. It was to dress a delta on a east, delivering water from a Sacramento River north of a delta to the pumps during a south finish of a delta, creation it many less likely that those pumps would siphon in possibly smelts or salt water.

People in a delta and a brook area were endangered that bypassing a delta would revoke a state’s seductiveness in gripping it healthy and boost a ability for shipping H2O south, so in a late 1970s and early 1980s Brown combined lots of environmental commitments to a project. These incited out not to be adequate to remonstrate northern California voters, though too many for some large farmers in a southern partial of a Central Valley who finished adult hostile a plan as well.

Now Brown is pushing for dual hulk tunnels to do a same pursuit as a Peripheral Canal. State H2O officials have also been contemplating an off-stream reservoir northwest of Sacramento that would take in Sacramento River H2O when it’s abounding and siphon it behind out when it’s not. These projects could feasible palliate stream H2O shortages. As best we can tell, what we’re articulate about is a disproportion of maybe a million acre-feet of H2O in a drought year. That is zero to sneeze during — a million acre-feet of H2O would be adequate to moisten roughly 350,000 of California’s 9 million acres of irrigated farmland. About 428,000 acres were taken out of prolongation final year since of a drought. On a other hand, adding H2O reserve mostly only creates new direct — and increasing inspection of water projects in California over a past few decades has indeed led to large improvements in both rural and civic water-use efficiency. Yes, “the environment” is holding more of California’s H2O than it used to, and that’s value discussing. But it isn’t accurately a H2O sow it is infrequently done out to be.  

  1. This is from a California Water Today section of a 2013 California Water Plan Update, that we don’t couple to in a content since it’s a 56 megabyte pdf. Also, we prepared a identical though somewhat opposite draft for an earlier column that showed practical H2O use instead of depleted H2O use. 

  2. This comment is from Marc Reisner’s epic Western H2O history,   “Cadillac Desert.” 

  3. This comment is from Norris Hundley Jr.’s even longer California H2O history, “The Great Thirst.”

  4. California’s stormy deteriorate runs from late tumble by early spring, so H2O totals are customarily totalled from a commencement of Oct to a finish of September. The 2014 H2O year, then, ran from Oct. 1, 2013, to Sept. 30, 2014.

To hit a author on this story:

Justin Fox


To hit a editor on this story:

James Greiff


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