In January of 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency after the drought led to the driest year in California history. Local government agencies sprung into action, calling for a twenty percent decrease in statewide water usage. Californians across the state were subjected to laws and regulations put in place to manage drought conditions. Farmers, especially, experienced hardship as groundwater and surface water supplies were cut off due to shortages.
However, even with the new additions to legislation, many of California’s water laws are no longer applicable- because they do not fully address the severity of the drought, are not implemented appropriately or inadequately deal with water resources. With California going into it’s fifth year of drought, new laws to improve water usage and regulation are essential for the wellbeing of the state. Modern Laws and Regulations
As reported by the 2015 Irrigation Association Drought Relief Summit, California’s water usage is split as so: agriculture uses 41%, urban settings use 10%, instream flow 8%, required delta outflow 7%, managed wetlands 2%, and wild and scenic rivers 32% (Farner). As shown, agriculture is the largest consumer of water. In May of 2013, after snowfall had been only 17% of what was expected and farms across California had dwindling water supplies, Governor Jerry Brown signed Executive Order B-21-13: the first executive order to address the drought. The order sped up approvals to transfer water to assist California farms.
Subsequently, in 2014 after reports of sinking land in Central California and no foreseeable improvement in the water crisis, California was declared to be in a State of Emergency due to extreme drought conditions. That same year, multiple actions by the California government worked to improve the water situation. These actions included $687. 4 million to support drought relief, securing emergency drinking water for drought-impacted communities, funding for state and local conservation corps, the creation of a drought task squad, and $1 million for the Save Our Water public awareness campaign (“Governor’s Office of Planning… . While these actions were helpful for alleviating current symptoms of the drought, they did not work towards long term solutions.
Then on April 1, 2015, the Governor issued Executive Order B-29-15, mandating statewide water restrictions for the first time in the state’s history. It called for a 25% reduction in state water usage continuing to 2016, and asked for people to take out lawns and replace it with drought resistant material. However, there were two main issues with this act; one, it was not enforced and two, it didn’t acknowledge farmers and their water restrictions.
In 2015, the New York Times wrote an article about an unnamed individual living in Los Angeles who used approximately 30,000 gallons of water each day without receiving any fines (Lovett). In comparison, a woman in Apple Valley was fined for using approximately 178 gallons per day (ibid). Obviously there is an inconsistency in enforcement. As for agriculture regulations, there are almost none. Most of agriculture’s water is controlled by the State Water Project, who take water from the San Joaquin River Delta, and can reduce or stop water deliveries depending on water levels.
In 2014, for the first time in history, they delivered 0% of the water requested by the agriculture community (Haroff). Another main issue in California is groundwater regulation. Historically, Californians who owned land had unregulated rights to the groundwater beneath them (“Groundwater”). But in 2014 the state decided to enact the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires for owners to implement sustainability plans for the majority of groundwater basins throughout the state, including many that California’s agricultural community are highly dependent on (ibid).
If a local plan is insufficient, the state creates a plan. However, the act is not expected to have real effect until 2020, which poses a problem since the drought needs to be addressed now (Kostal). Additionally, water lawyers across the country find it incredible that California does not require pumpers to measure the amount of water they extract. “It’s unusual for a state of the size and sophistication of California to have no code or legislation addressing the use of groundwater,” says water and environmental lawyer Roger Sims, a partner at Holland & Knight in Orlando (ibid).
So if the main issues with California’s laws are fine enforcement, agriculture regulations, and groundwater regulations, what can state legislation do? Recommended Solutions Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse or magically undo a drought. However laws can be implemented that will prevent future droughts or at the very least, alleviate drought conditions. Based on the issues California is experiencing with their current laws and the complexity of the drought, it is apparent that there is no single solution to this problem.
However there are things the state can do make current laws more effective. California can enforce fines by making water usage objectives and monitoring water use in households, create incentives and use grants, cost sharing, and financial to help farmers buy drought efficient equipment, create groundwater regulation acts that require withdrawals to be measured, and work with local government to educate the public on the drought. Additionally, California must make vital improvements to the water conveyance system.
The 2015 Irrigation Association Drought Summit reports that “the current water delivery system is poorly maintained and wastes millions of gallons through leaks, ruptures, blockages, poor connections and theft” (Farner). If the system is fixed, millions of gallons could be saved and put to use. Example of Implementation While there are few examples of successfully implemented drought laws in California, there are examples in other parts of the country and world.
In Idaho for instance, the state successfully manages surface and groundwater levels while balancing the amount of water returning to the ground (Farner). They do this through the Idaho Ground Water Act, which categorized aquifers by size and usage and has a committee approve water withdrawals (“Ground Water Management…”). Idaho also has a Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers (ibid).
While there are obvious limitations to enacting Idaho’s tactics to California, such as the differences in population or economy, their policies can still be applied. Another and perhaps more applicable example is Australia. Stretching across the 2000’s, Australia experienced a drought of similar severity to California’s. However their approach was more aggressive. Greywater systems were introduced that recycle shower and washing machine water to irrigate gardens. Sprinklers on lawns were completely banned.
Their programs have reduced the average household daily water use to 55 gallons per person, compared to an average of 140 gallons in California between 2001 and 2010,” reported Heather Cooley of the Oakland, California-based Pacific Institute in an interview with VOA (Snowess). Like California, Australia has a predominantly agriculture based economy. To address farmers and their water rights, the government ran a $2. 4 billion buyback program to purchase water for the environment from farms, with a $4. 5 billion infrastructure program (Farner).
Mike Young, a professor at the University of Adelaide and recipient of multiple awards for his work, including South Australian of the Year in Environment, noted that “The most significant thing we did was embrace a better water rights system designed to ensure the transition to efficient water use and innovation” (Snowess). The country spent around $12 billion to build 6 desalinization plants and billions more on rainwater capturing systems underneath cities and parks (ibid). Then in 2004, the country’s federal, state and territory governments agreed to jointly manage their water (ibid).
If California can apply Idaho’s ground water regulation laws and Australia’s aggressive anti-drought tactics, the state has the potential to be the most drought resistant it has been in decades. Current Situation Last month more than 24 million people in California were affected by the drought (“U. S. Geological Survey…”). This statistic has improved since October 2016, when 33 million people were affected (ibid). However while the drought situation in California has improved significantly, with large amounts of rain and even warning of flash floods, water conservation is still an extremely current issue.
Prodigious over-pumping of groundwater to make up for low water supplies has made California more vulnerable to another drought. However due to the climate, it will not be long before another dry spell. Therefore, the state needs to adopt new laws to regulate water resources and prevent over usage as soon as possible. If California can do this, they have a higher chance of alleviating drought conditions or even preventing them entirely for present and future endeavors.