New Water Reporting Requirements Have California Farmers On Edge

farm sprinklers photo

Photo via benketero via Flickr CC

California is simultaneously in a water crunch and one of the nation's most important food sources. California is the world's fifth largest supplier of food and agriculture commodities, and in 2007, California exported more agricultural products by air than 23 other states did by all modes of transport. That says a lot for how important farming is to the state, and we all know how important water is to farming. That brings us to the incredibly political and tumultuous issue of water rights and regulations within the state. In order to address a rising water shortage, the state is looking at tightening up water reporting requirements and that has farmers - notorious for wasting water in order to keep their full water rights into the following year - up in arms. Recordnet reports that "Farmers and landowners who tap rivers, streams and other surface water sources face strict new penalties - $1,000 and up to $500 a day - for failure to file detailed reports on such use with state water officials by July 1."

It is the short notice and steep fines that have upset most farmers.

Robert Ferguson, a farmer growing asparagus in the San Juaquin Delta, stated, "I am up to my elbows here, trying to fill out water diversion reports. It is important to be filling these reports out and do your due diligence. This is something that you're going to have to pay attention to," but added that he received no notice.

Still, the measures are important. Jim Kassel, assistant deputy director to the State Water Resources Control Board, stated, "We have no record of who is taking the water by these claims or rights, so we have no way of knowing who they are."

The idea that the state doesn't know who is taking water from the rivers and watersheds for their crops should be jaw-dropping in a state with such a significant drought issue.

While users of riparian water sources have been legally required to report use for years, there was no enforcement. Now, here comes the enforcement. But Kassel doesn't think it's in order to preserve the health of the watersheds, but rather figure out how much is there and being used so that it can be distributed elsewhere.

"They ... want to take water from this area and take it on south, so they're going to squeeze every landowner in the entire Delta and see if they have a right to divert... We'll have better data to determine whether there is water available in a watershed to provide new water rights."

Unfortunately, we hear often how the San Juaquin Delta is in major need of attention, from levees that require repair before a disaster hits to the drama between fish that need the water to get to spawning grounds and farmers that need the water to grow produce. So while the reporting requirements have a short turn around time and high fines attached, they're important for tracking what's going on with California's water sources. We hope these reporting regulations are at least the start of a better record of California's water crunch.

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