California has given away rights to far more water than it has

Source: UC Davis News and Information

California has allocated five times more surface water than the state actually has, making it hard for regulators to tell whose supplies should be cut during a drought, University of California researchers reported.

The scientists said California’s water-rights regulator, the State Water Resources Control Board, needs a systematic overhaul of policies and procedures to bridge the gaping disparity, but lacks the legislative authority and funding to do so.

Ted Grantham, who explored the state’s water-rights database as a postdoctoral researcher with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, said the time is ripe for tightening the water-use accounting.

“Given the public’s current attention on drought and California water, we now have an unprecedented opportunity for strengthening the water-rights system,” said Grantham, who conducted the analysis with UC Merced Professor Joshua Viers.

Better information might enable state regulators to better target water cutbacks in times of drought, Grantham said.

Grantham and Viers verified that water-rights allocations exceed the state’s actual surface water supply by about 300 million acre-feet, enough to fill Lake Tahoe about 2.5 times.

The state has allocated a total maximum allowable use of 370 million acre-feet of surface water — more than five times the 70 million acre-feet available in a year of good precipitation, according to the researchers’ review of active water rights on record. The analysis was published today (Aug. 19) in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The scientists said the California’s water-rights allocation system is complicated and backlogged, which contributes to the mismatched accounting. For example, people sometimes take water, apply retroactively for the right to use the water and continue taking it — sometimes for up to a decade — while their applications are pending.

Inaccurate reporting by water-rights holders worsens the problem. Some may even deliberately overestimate so they do not lose as much if cutbacks occur. The result is that in most water basins and in most years, far more people hold water rights than there is water. In the San Joaquin River basin, for example, water-rights allocations exceed the river’s average annual flow by eightfold.

“All those allocations mean that in times of drought, it’s hard to tell who should have to reduce water use, causing delays in issuing curtailments,“ said Viers, director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at UC Merced.

During the current drought, the state water board has for some watersheds ordered curtailments for all water users, to protect fish.

Viers and Grantham, now with the U.S. Geological Survey, are working to iron out issues with its database and make the information available to policymakers.

UC Gets FAA Clearance to Research Drone Use in Ag

A UC laboratory at the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly dones at the Merced County Radio Control Club’s field, reported Thaddeus Miller in the Merced Sun-Star.

The unmanned aircraft are part of a project funded by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources that aims to study the possible use remote controlled aerial imaging to provide real-time information to farmers about water use and crop health.

The project leader, David Doll, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Merced County, has put together a project team that includes UC Merced professors and graduate students, and UCCE advisors and staff.

Drones are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Doll believes small, basic UAVs can provide a platform for imaging hardware that can vastly improve crop surveillance to enhance water usage and pest control.

Doll’s project will test the potential of UAVs for water management and pest monitoring. He also plans to write a curriculum to extend information to farmers and demonstrate the use of small, remote controlled aerial vehicles as imaging platforms.

UC Merced also has other plans for using drone technology in research. They are seeking FAA approval to fly the aircraft over the university’s protected land, which includes 6,500 acres of grassland and vernal pools.

Dan Hirleman, dean of UC Merced’s School of Engineering, said the university’s use of drones and development of new technology could set it apart from other schools.

“We’re kind of at the ground zero for a lot of what’s going on in those areas,” he said. “It’s just a perfect fit with our sustainability theme and the application area.”

UC Researchers Trying to Understand Roll of Green Waste and Manure

Almond Growers Are Asked to Return Survey

Researchers are trying to find out the benefit of adding green waste from animal manure and adding it to the soil of permanent crops, and they  are looking for information from local growers.

A team of UC Davis and UC Merced researchers are trying to find how and why fruit and nut growers are using organic matter amended to their soils. These amendments might include green waste composted or non composted animal manure.

The goal of this survey is to help develop better approaches so the organic matter amendment can be used more safely, according to Daniel Schellenberg, postdoctoral scholar at UC Davis, who is the coordinator of the project.

“We’re hoping to find out the benefit to the orchard for using these types of materials and how they might improve environmental quality but as well as to find out are they benefit tree nutrition are they changing the biology in the soil, or they simply increasing the capacity of the soil to hold water.” said Schellenberg.

All California almond growers will be getting a survey in their mailboxes this week.

“We’re working with in partnership with the Almond Board of California we were able to have a mailing that will go out to almond growers about their practices and have also built a website that will allow all growers of trees, fruits, and nuts to be able to take the survey.” said Schellenberg

The survey can be found here.

Previously, the Almond Board of California stated that growers should not use these amendment due to food safety, but there has been no field trials to show the risk. A research goal is to find how amends can be used safely, and to determine how much nitrogen certain amendments can provide for tree and  vines.

Governor’s Interagency Drought Task Force Travels State as Drought Endures

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (left) speaking about the drought today at a meeting of the California State Board of Food Agriculture. To Secretary Ross’ left are Dr. Mark Starr of the California Department of Public Health, Secretary John Laird of the California Natural Resources Agency, and Mark Ghilarducci, Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (left) speaking about the drought today at a meeting of the California State Board of Food Agriculture. To Secretary Ross’ left are Dr. Mark Starr of the California Department of Public Health, Secretary John Laird of the California Natural Resources Agency, and Mark Ghilarducci, Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

CDFA reported on today’s UC Merced meeting between Members of Governor Brown’s Interagency Drought Task Force, local government leaders and the California State Board of Food and Agriculture.

Hundreds packed the meeting at UC Merced. Word on the street is that farmers are disappointed; the only quick solution is to turn the pumps on!

Task Force representatives were CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus, Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci, and Department of Public Health Deputy Director Dr. Mark Starr.

No Water LogoThe Task Force is planning additional meetings around California to listen to the concerns of local officials as the drought continues.