Executive Summary for December 10th

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary, including the most important stories, analysis and data. Our goal is to keep you informed of the day’s most significant events in the field.

Published on Dec. 10, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Big Shift in Water Use Reporting Ahead

A new state law will soon require most holders of water rights in California to begin reporting their actual water diversions from streams and rivers on an annual basis. Remarkably, this has never been required before.

Thus, the requirements represents a big shift in responsibility on to water diverters, and a vital new source of information for the public and policymakers.

The little-noticed requirement came in Senate Bill 88, approved by the legislature in June. Starting January 1, 2016, it requires all water rights and permit holders who divert more than 10 acre-feet per year to install devices that measure the rate of diversion, and maintain records of those diversions.

It also requires annual reporting of diversions to the State Water Resources Control Board.

Diverters will be subject to fines for failure to comply.

These requirements seem simple, but they are revolutionary in California, where the water rights system is antiquated, cumbersome and largely lacking in hard water-use statistics.

Until now, only some water users were required to submit diversion data, and only every five years. There was no requirement to base these reports on measurements from an actual flow-metering device. Instead, most of those subject to the reporting requirement would simply estimate on a form how much water they diverted.

In practice, many diverters simply filled out the form with their permitted maximum diversion amount in order to comply with the letter of the law – because they didn’t know how much they were diverting, and felt that reporting the full amount ensured they would retain title to that amount. In reality, some were probably diverting less than the full amount, and some much more.

It will be costly for diverters to comply with these new rules. They must purchase and install a flow measuring device, then spend time tracking and reporting diversions. Many of them aren’t happy about it.

In November, the Shasta County Cattlemen’s Association wrote to the water board saying it believes SB 88 “is unworkable and one of the worst pieces of legislation regarding water rights and diversions we have ever seen,” according to AgAlert.

Any new rules involve a difficult transition period. That gets easier once the rules become routine.

These requirements are a small price to pay for the privilege of diverting California’s limited water supplies for private use. It’s worth remembering that these water supplies don’t belong to the diverters. They belong to the people of California and are intended to benefit all aspects of the state that Californians enjoy, from serving a dynamic economy to providing fish and wildlife habitat that make for a vibrant environment.

The State Water Board plans to hold public hearings on the new requirements on December 17 and January 19. For more information, visit the water board’s web portal on the regulations.

Almond Industry Launches Sustainability Campaign

The almond-growing industry is huge in California, and it’s come under increasing scrutiny for its water consumption.

Thousands of acres are being converted from annual row crops, like tomatoes and lettuce, to grow almonds because the nuts are so lucrative. But this “hardens” water demand, making the state as a whole less flexible during drought, since permanent crops like almonds can’t be fallowed in a drought.

So this week the Almond Board of California launched a new strategic initiative to make the industry more environmentally sustainable.

A major focus of the initiative is water efficiency. This will include working with farmers to fine-tune irrigation techniques and adopt more advanced water-management technologies, such as efficient irrigation scheduling to get more “crop per drop.” It also includes experimenting with flooding almond orchards in winter to capture stormwater, and using recycled water on almond orchards.

“We will make investments today that will put the entire industry in a stronger position 10, 20 or 30 years from now,” Richard Waycott, president and CEO of the Almond Board, said in a statement. “Above all, we want Californians to know almonds are a desirable and high-value use of precious resources entrusted and allocated to growing food in California.”

Another major component of the plan is air quality. Harvesting almonds contributes to significant air-quality problems in California’s Central Valley, which already suffers from unhealthy air. The nuts are harvested by machines that aggressively shake almond trees by the trunk, which causes the nuts to drop to the ground but also releases vast clouds of fine dust from the trees. This dust then hovers over the orchard and is dispersed to neighboring towns.

The program will evaluate opportunities to decrease emissions, from fossil fuel emissions to small- and large-particulate pollutants, and identify cleaner technologies and processes.

The program will also examine the effect of almond growing on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, and opportunities to participate in carbon markets.

More details of the plan can be found on the Almond Board’s website.

Top image: An example of a water diversion flow meter, which will be required starting January. 1, 2016, on most water diversions in California for the first time. (State Water Resources Control Board)

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