Tim Stroshane 
Member since Jul 17, 2015


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Recent Comments

Re: “Salmon RIP?

Great piece! A few other resources for readers to consider as a follow-on to this report are the formal complaint filed by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance against the State Water Board's actions granting temporary waivers of water quality protections to the state and federal water projects, found here at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/…. Also, regarding the point about mismanagement of the water projects, on behalf of Restore the Delta I analyzed this behavior in a protest to the State Water Board at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/…. Happy holidays, everyone.

Posted by Tim Stroshane on 12/03/2015 at 10:56 AM

Re: “A Solution for California's Water Woes

In response to Mr. Gartrell's comment above, the report I authored for the California Water Impact Network, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and AquAlliance, which Mr. Parrish mentions, found that the face value of consumptive water rights claims (particularly for irrigation) is over five times that of average unimpaired (quasi-natural) runoff. That study factors out the nonconsumptive uses to a large degree. The study is available online at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/bay_delta/docs/comments111312/tim_stroshane.pdf.

Mr. Gartrell's example of water rights originating at Shasta or Oroville is true. There may be some double counting, particularly in State Water Board accounting of face value of water rights because of rediversion permits needed for complicated projects like the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. When the Board presented information on face value of water rights to Governor Schwarzenegger's Delta Vision Task Force in 2008, they included nonconsumptive uses. Our study counted the rights claimed along the rivers of the Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins, excluding the Delta. We intended to compare apples with apples as much as possible.

For a relatively simple water system like the Stanislaus River which has New Melones Reservoir (a Bureau of Reclamation property), the water rights claims - including riparian and pre-1914 water rights, not just those issued by the State Water Board after 1914 - exceed average unimpaired river flow by a ratio of 5.6. Again, our study excluded nonconsumptive hydropower rights. (It's also important to know about the Stanislaus that even though the Bureau's water rights' face values are larger than any other on that river, its claims are junior to others, meaning that during drought, they have a hard time meeting the demands of their contractors.) The C-WIN-CSPA-AquAlliance study accounts for all the consumptive rights claimed in the two river basins while excluding those claimed for nonconsumptive uses like hydropower generation and recreation.

As to why more rivers don't run dry if water rights are supposedly over-appropriated we need remember that the San Joaquin River was desiccated for over 40 miles between Gravelly Ford and the confluence with the Merced River as a conscious and deliberate policy of the Bureau of Reclamation and the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors from about 1949 until a federal judge ruled it to be an abomination. Yet that river's restoration program is under constant attack from some quarters of the San Joaquin Valley, which suggests how difficult and expensive in time, money, and political capital it can be to fix a river, once it has been broken.

Moreover, the "rivers don't run dry" argument is something of a red herring. The water agencies involved with the state and the Bureau's water systems are deeply concerned about "reliability." Senior water rights are more reliable than junior rights precisely because senior rights can still take water in the dry years when juniors cannot. The system makes access to water during a drought subject to some historically arbitrary point in time. This raises the specter of "paper water" where a water agency's investment in a supply source like the state or federal water systems is like having a mortgage on a house that you cannot live in and enjoy - you'r'e paying something for nothing. That's known as a scam, but we don't like to think of state and federal water projects as scam artists. Instead we have paper water. Paper water supplies for parts of California whose access to water is junior to other parts - that is the real issue here, not so much that "rivers run dry." They don't because of the return and wastewater flows Mr. Gartrell cites. The "factoid" is thus an indicator of the degree to which water agencies' expectations for receiving water outruns their actual receipt of it.

The issue to be provoked by the C-WIN/CSPA/AquAlliance study is how do we understand the water rights system as applied by the State Water Board, and how do we protect flows to and in our rivers and the Bay-Delta estuary so that we recover our ecosystems as we still provide a 21st century water supply for California? If we need to understand more about double counting, fine - educate us. If river flows and snowpacks will be shrinking, and we have rights and claims to water whose rate of actually receiving full supplies is declining, then let's figure out what we need to do differently since the future may well be hitting us now.

Mr. Gartrell is correct that the State Water Board lacks a system for tracking water rights and water uses well, and for making sense of both. The general public deserves a debate about water rights, what they mean, who claims them, and how the claimants use water, since the health of California's rivers and the sustainability of its water supply are both at stake. Since the climate is supposed to get drier here in California all these claims will be chasing less water, not more in the decades ahead.

11 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Tim Stroshane on 07/17/2015 at 9:51 AM

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