California’s Groundwater Crisis: Time to Adjudicate

As Rick pointed out last week, the University of Texas has found that California’s groundwater resources are “being depleted at an alarming rate” and the state’s use of them is completely unsustainable.  The Texas study follows up on Rhead Enion’s study last year issued by the Emmett Center, which pointed out that California is one of only two states that has no form of statewide groundwater management system at all.  Oh, the state promised one — back in 1913, when it decided to regulate surface water.  But nothing since then.  Maybe we should have a Centennial Celebration of Dysfunction!

As long as the Legislature remains paralyzed, and the courts unwilling to invoke the public trust, there really remains only one feasible solution in the short term: adjudicating groundwater basins throughout the Central Valley. California’s best-managed groundwater basins are in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and guess what?  They are the adjudicated ones.

Whenever I suggest adjudicating groundwater basins, the usual response is that such adjudications are costly, time-consuming, and potentially a litigation nightmare.  All of this might be true, but the question is always: compared to what?  Many of the sources that state these things were books published in the early 1980’s: if we had started adjudicating then, we might be finished by now.

Rhead’s study mentions that adjudication without anything else is a suboptimal solution, because watermasters are concerned with water rights and thus water quantity, but they have little authority over water quality.  That creates a patchwork water regulation system, with the local watermaster dealing with rights, and Cal-EPA dealing with water quality issues.  Very true.  But I would prefer that to the chaos that currently afflicts the Central Valley.

Perhaps the best thing about adjudication is that it can be begun without going through the Legislature.  If my understanding is correct, the petitions for adjudication can be filed by the Attorney General.  Kamala Harris ought to begin that work now, even if she might not live to see the final result.  Early air quality efforts in California were hopelessly inadequate, but if they had not started when they did, we might not have the Clean Air Act now.

Oh, and if big agribusinesses in the Central Valley (I’m looking at you, Boswell) don’t like it?  Well, then they can always go back to the Legislature and finally agree to do something.  That’s one more advantage with adjudication: it pushes the legislature.  You can deal with it now, or you can deal with it later.  But the time for inaction is over.

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Reader Comments

9 Replies to “California’s Groundwater Crisis: Time to Adjudicate”

  1. Given the drastic rate of climate change and the diminishing California water supply do you really think there will be anything left to adjudicate over the long haul in Northern California?

  2. Given the drastic rate of climate change and the diminishing California water supply do you really think there will be anything left to adjudicate over the long haul in Northern California?

  3. Climate change is a function of multi decade or longer natural cycles….not CO2 or global warming.

    The water issues in the Central Valley (where I have lived) are more a function of the Enviro goal to control and strangle businesses/industries with whom they disagree or wish to destroy or control.

    Air and water regulations have increasingly been politically and unscientifically driven, and has resulted in artificially created scarcity, such as what happens when a non-endangered species of fish is fraudulently declared endangered, and farming water is diverted to ‘aid’ the fish, and flushed out into the ocean instead of being used to grow food and recharge waning aquifers.

    The solutions to these problems are clear, but require the enviro ECO mob to stop creating laws and cause and action that require increasing regulations, and outright theft of scarce water supplies.

    Building more dams and increasing the storage capacity of existing dams would help increase more supply, and clean energy, but that is against the ECO/Enviro NGO agenda, and they stonewall it at every turn….then blame Farmers.

    But they are unwilling to return Hetch-Hechy to its original state, destroying the Bay Area’s largest supply of fresh water, so it is a ‘do as I say and not as I do’ situation that lays bare the real agenda: control water (by legislated theft) and you control food and people.

    This is wrong…it is stealing. It is also destroying needed infrastructure.

    Stop the agenda to create artificial water scarcity and problems, stop efforts to steal water supply.

    Build more dams so there is plenty of water for everyone for years to come.

    Better yet, cancel the train scam and build a dam.

    Then you get useful infrastructure, more water, for more food, for more people, clean power and jobs.

    Unless the Sierra Club and other Enviro groups oppose it that is…which they have.

    Same people who supported cheap toxic chinese solar panels and rare earth chinese magnetics that went into 90%+ of the wind turbines produced for California and other places, with the consequent environmental devastation in china from manufacturing practices that they KNEW were the worst on the planet. The enviros in their zeal to support ‘clean energy’ merely shifted and augmented pollution overseas, and all that coal ash still falls on US soil….all the contaminated radioactive rare earth mine tailings water from China still comes here eventually, and into our aquatic food supply.
    Do these eco groups oppose that? No…except through lip service maybe…but nothing of any substance.

    This is not about the environment or water or clean air….it is about centralized control of resources, food and energy.

    If this trend is not stopped, it will not end well for any of us….even the enviros.

    You cannot control something (a business, an economy or an air or water district) and make it ‘better’ by strangling it into submission and stealing resources….you may end up killing it….and the very resources and industries upon which we all rely for our standard of living.

    I have lived and worked many years in Ag, in Hi Tech and in Energy, so I’ve seen all sides, pro and con….and I know a con when I see one.

    We need more water, not less, so we need to build.

    We also need to respect property rights of our neighbors, and stop using the environment as an excuse to steal.

    I guess some of the enviro crowd were not raised with such morals, but that is another problem…

  4. Climate change is a function of multi decade or longer natural cycles….not CO2 or global warming.

    The water issues in the Central Valley (where I have lived) are more a function of the Enviro goal to control and strangle businesses/industries with whom they disagree or wish to destroy or control.

    Air and water regulations have increasingly been politically and unscientifically driven, and has resulted in artificially created scarcity, such as what happens when a non-endangered species of fish is fraudulently declared endangered, and farming water is diverted to ‘aid’ the fish, and flushed out into the ocean instead of being used to grow food and recharge waning aquifers.

    The solutions to these problems are clear, but require the enviro ECO mob to stop creating laws and cause and action that require increasing regulations, and outright theft of scarce water supplies.

    Building more dams and increasing the storage capacity of existing dams would help increase more supply, and clean energy, but that is against the ECO/Enviro NGO agenda, and they stonewall it at every turn….then blame Farmers.

    But they are unwilling to return Hetch-Hechy to its original state, destroying the Bay Area’s largest supply of fresh water, so it is a ‘do as I say and not as I do’ situation that lays bare the real agenda: control water (by legislated theft) and you control food and people.

    This is wrong…it is stealing. It is also destroying needed infrastructure.

    Stop the agenda to create artificial water scarcity and problems, stop efforts to steal water supply.

    Build more dams so there is plenty of water for everyone for years to come.

    Better yet, cancel the train scam and build a dam.

    Then you get useful infrastructure, more water, for more food, for more people, clean power and jobs.

    Unless the Sierra Club and other Enviro groups oppose it that is…which they have.

    Same people who supported cheap toxic chinese solar panels and rare earth chinese magnetics that went into 90%+ of the wind turbines produced for California and other places, with the consequent environmental devastation in china from manufacturing practices that they KNEW were the worst on the planet. The enviros in their zeal to support ‘clean energy’ merely shifted and augmented pollution overseas, and all that coal ash still falls on US soil….all the contaminated radioactive rare earth mine tailings water from China still comes here eventually, and into our aquatic food supply.
    Do these eco groups oppose that? No…except through lip service maybe…but nothing of any substance.

    This is not about the environment or water or clean air….it is about centralized control of resources, food and energy.

    If this trend is not stopped, it will not end well for any of us….even the enviros.

    You cannot control something (a business, an economy or an air or water district) and make it ‘better’ by strangling it into submission and stealing resources….you may end up killing it….and the very resources and industries upon which we all rely for our standard of living.

    I have lived and worked many years in Ag, in Hi Tech and in Energy, so I’ve seen all sides, pro and con….and I know a con when I see one.

    We need more water, not less, so we need to build.

    We also need to respect property rights of our neighbors, and stop using the environment as an excuse to steal.

    I guess some of the enviro crowd were not raised with such morals, but that is another problem…

  5. Dear Tesla X,
    Thank you for a clear and well-written analysis of the prevailing eco-fraud which has fully corrupted the environmental movement and has rendered its advocates as non-credible and not trustworthy. Today you made a difference. Keep up the good work and have a great life.

    Sincerely,
    bqrq

  6. Dear Tesla X,
    Thank you for a clear and well-written analysis of the prevailing eco-fraud which has fully corrupted the environmental movement and has rendered its advocates as non-credible and not trustworthy. Today you made a difference. Keep up the good work and have a great life.

    Sincerely,
    bqrq

  7. If surface water adjudications (e.g. the Snake and Big Horn), which have taken decades and cost millions, provide any guidance, ground water adjudications will be “costly, time-consuming, and potentially a litigation nightmare.” Perhaps for some reason ground water is different from surface water as far as adjudications go, but I do not see such a distinction.

    Even assuming an adjudication would eventually quantify and prioritize ground water rights, hydrogeologic uncertainty will often make enforcing those rights difficult. Showing, for example, that a junior ground water appropriator in Merced has interfered with senior ground water rights in Bakersfield is far more difficult than showing that a junior appropriation from a surface water impacted downstream senior rights. Granted, the science will support calls in some ground water cases. The question is whether that limited improvement provides adequate benefit to justify the time and costs of adjudication.

  8. If surface water adjudications (e.g. the Snake and Big Horn), which have taken decades and cost millions, provide any guidance, ground water adjudications will be “costly, time-consuming, and potentially a litigation nightmare.” Perhaps for some reason ground water is different from surface water as far as adjudications go, but I do not see such a distinction.

    Even assuming an adjudication would eventually quantify and prioritize ground water rights, hydrogeologic uncertainty will often make enforcing those rights difficult. Showing, for example, that a junior ground water appropriator in Merced has interfered with senior ground water rights in Bakersfield is far more difficult than showing that a junior appropriation from a surface water impacted downstream senior rights. Granted, the science will support calls in some ground water cases. The question is whether that limited improvement provides adequate benefit to justify the time and costs of adjudication.

  9. Bravo for clear, rational thinking during the blue goldrush! This issue has been on the back burner for too long while our most precious natural resource; native aquifers, are being mishandled and irreparably damaged. Case in point is the Fremont Valley, E. Kern County,CA. where the County Supervisors seem to think it’s ok to surrender up an entire valley’s groundwater to secure a notch on their “renewable energy” belt. LADWP is at it again in their relentless, shortsighted pursuit of water with the Beacon Solar Project to gain a foothold for The Fremont Valley Preservation Project which would spell nothing short of doom for another sacrificial chunk of the great Mojave Desert. We do, indeed need to act.

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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