News Feature | February 27, 2018

Will California Bring Back Drought-Era Water Cuts?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

rain farm reg new

A proposal to reinstate water restrictions that held sway during the since-ended California drought is under consideration by state water regulators.

The state Water Resources Control Board is weighing the proposal, which would make certain drought-era water restrictions permanent. The restrictions were in place between 2013 to 2017. Advocates say making them permanent would make water conservation a long-term, central feature of state water policy, according to the Associated Press.

In a February 20 decision, the board chose to delay its decision, according to a release. The board said it wants to extend the public comment period on this proposal.

“The proposed permanent prohibitions are part of a long-term plan to better prepare the state for future droughts and make conservation a California way of life. The draft plan also includes establishing a framework for efficient water use that reflects the state’s diverse climate, landscape and population growth. This framework builds on the state’s successful water conservation efforts during the drought,” the board said.

Critics of the proposal to make water cuts permanent say it could pose a threat to water rights.

“Officials from several irrigation and water agencies said the restrictions are reasonable, but not the plan to impose them under the state Constitution's prohibition on the waste or unreasonable use of water. That would create a slippery slope of allowing the board to repeatedly chip away at California's historic protection of water rights for landowners,” the AP reported, citing water officials.

Water rights, in general, represent a fractious area of policymaking that officials may choose to revisit if drought conditions creep back into the state, according to CALmatters.

“Whether those rights should be overhauled, or even abolished, has been kicked around in academic, political and agricultural circles for decades, the latter because farmers account for about three-fourths of California’s human water consumption,” the report said.

“Two unresolved issues dominate the discussions: whether the most senior rights are absolute, or can be legally modified, and if modified whether their holders are entitled to compensation.

Had the drought not been interrupted by last winter’s storms, both issues appeared headed toward showdowns,” it continued.

Image credit: "Rains a Comin," Malcolm Carlaw © 2014, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/