PCL Insider – May 2022

Water Polices for the 21st Century

A year and a half ago, PCL convened a group of water law and policy experts to develop recommendations for Updating California Water Laws to Address Drought and Climate Change. Two of those recommendations are in bills PCL is sponsoring this legislative session. 

Under existing law an applicant for a new water right is required to submit evidence that there is unappropriated water available for the project. The State Water Resources Control Board then has to confirm that unappropriated water is available. That is required to ensure that the proposed project will not be taking away from more senior water right holders or from recreation, fish and wildlife resources.

To date this has been done by looking backwards at historic precipitation, the ratio of snow versus rain, stream gage records, watershed drainage characteristics and other factors. But now we know that climate change is significantly altering all of those factors. There is already a reduction in California’s snowpack. Warmer temperatures increase evaporation and reduce runoff. Burned over forests result in flashier runoff. As Casey Stengel said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

PCL is sponsoring Senate Bill 1205 by Senator Allen. This bill would require water rights applicants and the State Water Resources Control Board to consider climate change as part of water supply analyses. In order to have sustainable water management California needs to look forward, not backward.

PCL is also sponsoring Assembly Bill 2639 by Assembly Member Quirk. This bill would address the unconscionable delays in updating the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan. It has already been 27 years since the State Water Board updated the standards that are supposed to protect water users, fish and wildlife and other users of water from Redding all the way down to Fresno and the Bay Delta itself (the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas). The result of decades of the Board’s inaction has been less water reliability, crashing fisheries, and degraded water quality. 

AB 2639 would require the State Water Board to finish its update by the end of 2023. That would be 28 years past due.

PCL is also supporting AB 2108 by Assembly Member Rivas. This includes another of the group’s recommendations by adding a requirement that at least one member of the State Water Board and one member of each of the Regional Water Quality Control Boards have experience in the water issues facing disadvantaged communities.  This is one important step in implementing the Human Right to Water. 

Read more: February 24, 2022 Guest Commentary in Calmatters “Byzantine water laws will leave Californians high and dry,” by Professor Richard Frank & Professor Holly Doremus click here to visit the website or click here to open the pdf.