An ongoing, historic drought in California has compelled California state legislators to rethink the state’s long-standing treatment of water rights. While the recent heavy snowpack and wet spring and summer have alleviated the extreme drought conditions for now, the changing climate leaves California susceptible to future long and extreme droughts.
California’s reservoirs are so dry from a historic drought that regulators warned Thursday it’s possible the state’s water agencies won’t get anything from them next year, a frightening possibility that could force mandatory restrictions for residents. This year, unusually hot, dry conditions caused nearly 80% of that water to either evaporate or be absorbed into the parched soil — part of a larger drought that has emptied reservoirs and led to cuts for farmers across the western United States. It caught sate officials by surprise as California now enters the rainy season with reservoirs at their lowest level ever.
In a sign of worsening drought, the state on Tuesday warned about 4,300 users to stop diverting water from the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta watershed, stretching from Fresno to the Oregon border.
The notifications, which indicate that demand from farmers and cities is exceeding supply, are the widest-ranging move by state regulators since 2015 to restrict the use of water rights in a major watershed.
A new set of water regulations aimed at protecting California’s native fish came down from the state earlier this week to near universal condemnation from both agricultural and environmental water folks.
The regulations are contained in a 143-page “incidental take permit” issued by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife that lays out when — and how much — water can be pumped out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by the State Water Project.
Agricultural contractors who get water from the project fear they could lose up to 300,000 acre-feet a year under the new permit.