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Executive Summary for March 10th

In this weekly roundup we analyze key water developments in California, including a landmark decision on Native American water rights, new conservation numbers for the state and a climate change resolution.

Published on March 10, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Water Conservation Continues

The State Water Resources Control Board announced California’s monthly water conservation for January was 20.5 percent, a slight uptick from the same time last year, when it was 17.2 percent, and nearly the same as the previous month’s figure of 20.6 percent.

The Water Board also reported that the statewide average for per capita water use fell to a new low of 58.1 gallons a day.

“This ongoing effort is important, rain or shine, for all sorts of reasons, in light of the greater extremes we can expect with climate change and increasingly weird weather,” said State Water Board chair Felicia Marcus.

The wet winter weather has helped water conservation efforts, eliminating or reducing outdoor watering needs in many parts of the state.

One area where conservation is lagging, though, is the central San Joaquin Valley, where per capita water usage averages around 64.4 gallons a day and is as high as 82.6 gallons a day in Fresno, the Fresno Bee reported.

Precedent-Setting Water Rights Case

On Tuesday the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in a case that has been hailed as precedent-setting in Native American water law.

The court upheld a 2015 lower court ruling that said the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians have a federally established right to groundwater.

“Because the United States intended to reserve water when it established a home for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, we hold that the district court did not err in determining that the government reserved appurtenant water sources – including groundwater – when it created the tribe’s reservation in the Coachella Valley,” the opinion states.

The Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency, the two water agencies that manage groundwater in the area, could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, the Desert Sun reported.

“It’s a powerful decision. It will be studied by all of the many tribes that still have unresolved water rights issues, and I suspect it will be put to use,” Sarah Krakoff, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School, told the Desert Sun. “It could open the door to more litigation, and then for existing disputes – whether they’re in litigation or settlement – it will change the contours.”

Planning for Climate Change

The State Water Resources Control Board continued its work of using climate science to guide future action and planning by voting to adopt an updated climate change resolution.

Tuesday’s resolution states that it “sets forth a comprehensive set of climate change mitigation and adaptation actions, and establishes regular and ongoing progress reports on implementation of those actions.”

State Water Board vice-chair Frances Spivy-Weber, also cochair of the Brown administration’s Water-Energy Team of the Climate Action Team (WET-CAT), said the action continues California’s path of climate leadership. The Water Board passed a resolution in 2007 to guide how it responds to climate change and how to help implement the 2006 landmark climate change law, Assembly Bill (AB) 32.

“As our dramatic swing from severe drought to record-setting precipitation shows, we are already experiencing the impacts of more extreme weather and face significant challenges to improve the resiliency of our water systems, from our dams to our groundwater basins,” said Spivy-Weber.

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