5 Mar 2008

NorCal Called -- Wants Its Water Back

Just when you thought water supplies to Southern California couldn't fall farther, Northern California areas now calling the "loan" of water they gave to SoCal 30-40 years ago. Here's the scoop:
water contracts were signed at a time when optimistic state planners were counting on major new dams to supply water from the Eel, Klamath and Trinity Rivers on the North Coast.

Those dams, which might have supplied an additional 5 million acre-feet of water to the Delta, were never built.

The result is that just like what happened on the Colorado River, parts of California developed on overly optimistic water supply estimates and an obligation to eventually return "surplus" water.

"They've known that water supply wasn't going to be there for about 25 years," said John Herrick, manager of the South Delta Water Agency. "Nobody planned. That doesn't mean the solution would be easy, but they've had 25 years."

The laws, referred to collectively as "area of origin" laws, require water users in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley to give Delta water back when the region needs it and can use it.
Bottom Line: Water rights are notoriously sticky, and no matter how perverse they may seem, courts generally recognize them. If NorCal's rights to water are upheld (a likely scenario), SoCal will lose access to some of the water it "enjoys" today. (Don't be surprised if SoCal politicians start arguing that people will have no water to drink; they will be reminded that most of SoCal water is used for agriculture.) Hopefully, there will be a market, and SoCal will be able to "buy back" the water. Don't forget the adage in water: "Markets are the best option -- after you've tried everything else."

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