We have a situation going on in California right now that will tell us whether the State Water Resources Control Board can manage the state’s water resources for the benefit of the whole state rather than for the benefit of south San Joaquin Valley agriculture worth less than one-half of one percent of the state’s GDP.
This past spring, the Water Board received ten petitions from Northern California water rights holders to “temporarily” transfer their water diversion rights to some state and federal water contractors south of the Delta. These contractors included the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Westlands Water District.
These contractors likely saw shortages on the horizon and wanted to secure additional water. The problem with this whole strategy was set forth in a letter to the Water Board from the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), and AquAlliance:
. . .[These] petitions for temporary water transfers [are] injurious to existing water rights holders throughout the Sacramento Valley region, detrimental to the ecosystems of the Bay-Delta Estuary since they involve Delta export pumping, and [threaten], through groundwater substitution pumping, loss of surface flow to large head differences leading to excessive groundwater recharge from surface streams. . . . [Most] of the petitions rely on groundwater substitution in order for sellers of their surface water rights to continue cultivation. Increasing the footprint of senior water rights holders during a likely dry-to-drought year is a bad idea itself, when many other legal users of groundwater themselves need to pump more to grow and harvest their crops. This puts senior water right users in direct conflict with groundwater-reliant neighbors and the environment—unnecessarily.
Despite the various arguments against these petitions for transfer, the Water Board approved them in early July.