I read this op-ed with substantial interest. It veers through a bunch of different issues, nearly all of them sweet, delicious blog bait. The part about the Bureau of Reclamation mis-calculating coldwater needs because of a faulty gauge is genuinely embarrassing. Sure would be nice to have the budget for redundant gauges and consistent on-going calibration and maintenance. Then they baited me with the implicit assumption that growing permanent crops planted one fucking year after the end of the 2006-2009 drought, is a reasonable choice, and once the trees are in, they must be maintained at any cost. But if I can keep my composure and walk peaceably by these two articles, I can surely do the same for the op-ed from the Merced Sun-Star. I am the very model of restraint and dignity*. Instead, the hook that interests me in the op-ed is the closing paragraphs:
Before tossing aside 230 years of laws, rules and court decisions, it must be recognized that small farmers are at a horrible disadvantage when competing for water against larger, more well-funded entities. It also must be recognized that the best soils frequently have the most long-standing water rights, and to divorce the water from those soils will not only ruin family farms, but result in a waste of one of the state’s great assets.
In this drought, water managers have no room for faulty equipment or faulty judgment. Don’t compound the mistake with a hasty revision of our water laws.
I am very curious. What would not be a hasty revision of our water laws? Legislators appointing a commission that returned recommendations after two years of study? The State Water Resources Control Board coming up with a plan for a ten-year conversion to a new water rights system? I know the water law professors have been pointing out flaws in the water rights system for years
. (Not least that appropriative water rights include a season of diversion, but the shift from snow to rain because of climate change may mean that there isn’t water available during the season of diversion on the water right.) Where are they?** This isn’t yet the time, but another year or two of drought and the talk about having water rights that actually fit our hydrology and protect wildlife is going to get a lot louder.
That would be an interesting conference, actually. One that examined potential water rights schemes and recommended more than the usual bullshit recommendations: “well, at least keep track of what is going on now”, “you gotta do something about groundwater”, and “a market! based on existing rights”. Would starting to work on that now mean that revision would not be “hasty” when we reach Year Six of the drought?
Also, were I Water Rights Czar, it would be important to me to pair good water rights with good soils. The op-ed is right about that. I would also want a structure that protects small farms. I wouldn’t favor a rights structure that treats water as a commodity. People just assume that’s the inevitable reform because all anyone is willing to say about water rights reform is Markets!Markets!OhGodMarkets!. There are other options. We should look at them carefully.
* OK. I totally cannot keep my composure. They specifically mention that
12,000 21,000 more acres of trees in the area were planted since 2010.
In 2010, the San Joaquin River authority had 23,962 acres planted in fruit, nuts and vines. By 2014, that number was up to 45,000 acres – primarily almonds, walnuts, pistachios and pomegranates, said executive director Steve Chedester.
I know I have joked about this before, but there really was a 2006-2009 drought, right? I do remember that and I am not crazy? Does any one else remember? Before East Porterville, the drought poster child was Mendota? There were pictures of Communist carrots? House Republicans held their own hearings in Fresno because Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t schedule them on the House floor? It dragged poor Professor Michael into water policy, probably for sins in a previous life. Gov. Schwarzenegger passed XX by Twenty20, which looks meek and cute compared to 32 by NextFuckingMonth, which is what we do now.
Anyway, one (1!) year after a three-year drought that fallowed hundreds of thousands of acres on the West Side, with the San Joaquin River Restoration widely known and prominent, with climate change predictions both intensifying and coming true in the present, growers in Chedester’s jurisdiction thought “I am so certain that I will get water every year in the next twenty-five years that I will plant trees.” How does that happen? What is the thought process? I am genuinely asking.
**I have to admit that I am a little surprised. Surely a water law prof has been musing on alternative rights structures for years. What else does one do when awake in the night? Where are the proposals?