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Report: California Allocates More Water Rights Than It Has Actual Water

California not only has a drought problem, it also has a water allocation problem. The state has allocated five times more surface water than is actually available to supply, according to a study by the University of California, Davis.

Researchers say that California’s State Water Resources Control Board water rights policies need to be overhauled, but that requires state lawmakers to pass legislation to address the problem.

“Given the public’s current attention on drought and California water, we now have an unprecedented opportunity for strengthening the water-rights system,” said UC researcher Ted Grantham who helped conduct the study.

Researchers looked at state water rights data to find the state had exceeded its actual surface water supply by 300 million acre-feet. The state has allocated 370 million acre-feet of surface water which is five times more than the 70 million acre-feet that’s usually available in years with good amounts of rain.

“[I]naccurate and incomplete accounting of water rights has made the state ill-equipped to satisfy growing societal demands for water supply reliability and healthy ecosystems,” reads the UC Davis study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“In the state’s major river basins, water rights account for up to 1000% of natural surface water supplies, with the greatest degree of appropriation observed in tributaries to the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and in coastal streams in southern California,” the report adds.

California’s recent drought has consumed nearly the whole state and has become a talking point for environmentalists and politicians who are sounding the alarm on global warming.

But others have pointed to the region’s water infrastructure as a major source of the the state’s water woes. The state’s water infrastructure consists of 1,200 miles of canals and nearly 50 reservoirs to supply 22 million people. The problem is the state’s population is now more than 38 million people, which has put a strain on state water resources.

This infrastructure problem was compounded by a 2007 federal court ruling which forced the state to reallocate more water to protecting the Delta smelt, which is a three inch endangered fish. The ruling caused 1 million acre-feet of water to be diverted from farms in the Central Valley in 2009 and 2010.

The shortage has become so acute that state regulators are now fining people who are found to be wasting water. This has even stirred up controversy with the ALS Association “Ice Bucket Challenge” charity craze that has gone viral on the Internet.

“Violation of these prohibited actions is punishable by a fine of up to $500 for each day in which the violation occurs,” the California Public Utilities Commission said.

Federal lawmakers are currently working to pass legislation to expand California’s water infrastructure, but environmentalists have opposed the bill.

“In arid regions such as California, over-allocation of surface water coupled with trends of decreasing supply suggest that new water demands will be met by re-allocation from existing uses,” reads the UC Davis study. “Without improvements to the water rights system, growing human and environmental demands portend an intensification of regional water scarcity and social conflict.”

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