increasingly difficult business conditions may cost the largest cotton grower in Australia many or all of its water rights.
That would be Cubbie Station, which owns a massive volume of water rights in southern Queensland. it is estimated to own 538 gigaliters of water, and it may sell at least 70 gl to help pay its bills. The buyer may be the Australian federal government, which has indicated it is interested in talking with any willing sellers of water rights.
Arizona Republic reporter Shaun McKinnon today takes a look at a basic fact of western life making some people uneasy and giving others talking points for policy shifts: The fact that so much of western water in arid places is used to grow very water-thirsty crops.
He notes that of the Colorado River water used in Arizona, “more than a billion gallons a day, irrigates vast fields of wheat, alfalfa, cotton, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, melons and a produce aisle of other fruits and vegetables, feeding an industry tilled from the desert more than a century ago. In Arizona, the crops yield about 1 percent of the state’s annual economic output, yet the fields soak up 70 percent of the water supply. That outsize allotment has painted a target on the farms as urban water managers search for the next bucket of water to meet future demands.”
Because Arizona (like its neighbors) is a prior appropriation state and because many of the farmers have senior water rights, substantial changes in use would not be very easy to execute.
McKinnon points out that “Together, the largest water districts in the Yuma area can divert more than 750,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado each year. Metropolitan Las Vegas, with a population of more than 2 million, can draw just 300,000 acre-feet a year.”
It’s a point that puts in context talk about the fountains and swimming pools of Las Vegas next to the crops of melons and lettuce grown in the desert.
A sweeping 150-page California water plan bill was introduced on October 23 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and it could form the basis for a special session specifically called for resolving the state’s water supply issues.
The new proposal may not be visible to the public for long before a vote is conducted. And a number of key legislators say they have been left out of the negotiations process.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that “Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, called the water negotiations a ‘terrible process’ that could ultimately jeopardize the plan. ‘My concern is that no matter what comes out of this it won’t be a solution to the problem because of the way it is being put together,’ said Wolk, who represents counties surrounding the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta at the heart of the state’s water system. She has essentially been cut out of the negotiations by Senate leadership.”
A proposal by the Pueblo West Metropolitan District to more intensively reuse the water it has – a proposal which needs a checkoff from the state’s health department – has hit a roadblock from the area’s council of governments, which has to approve such a request.
Pueblo West is seeking “return flow” credits, which will accrue to a much larger degree if this waste water can be in effect further recycled.
A new Massachusetts state water allocation policy may open the door to increased water withdrawals in a number of locations, including the Charles River.
The decision comes from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which on October 8 said it would revised the criteria it uses for “safe yield,” or the amount of water that can safely be pulled from various water systems.
Bob Zimmerman, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, was quoted as saying, “All the work we’ve done to create conservation-based permits and to conserve water in the state and to turn this resource into one that meets both human demand and natural-resource need is basically out the window.”
State Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said that “With abundant rainfall and streams and lakes that provide world-class fishing and recreation opportunities, it is unacceptable that the Commonwealth still has areas where streams dry up in the summer, aquatic habitat is degraded, and municipalities are forced to restrict growth. Working with EEA agencies, municipalities, water suppliers, and environmental groups, the Patrick Administration is launching an effort to address these challenges through an integrated approach to water resource management.”
A protest of a substantial water diversion and impoundment this fall on the San Marcos River has picked up mor steam after an initial protest gathering on September 26 (see earlier post).
The dispute concerns a new housing development at Martindale, Texas – a development that uses so much water, they said, that it could harm general water supplies in the area.
The development, near the San Marcos River (and roughly in between Austin and San Antonio), which covers about 200 acres, is based around the Emmett Harper Ranch. Substantial water rights, amounting to about 150 acre feet per year, were attached to the ranch, and more were obtained besides. Some of the water rights might have been lost, ordinarily, because of lack of need for beneficial use.
However, developer Gordon Hall said that he planned to built in the gated community not only 100 houses but also extensive parkland and three lakes.
Not only the water rights but also the water reportedly was included in the $1.2 million purchase this month by Eagle County of 76 acre-feet of water, which has been located at the Columbine Ditch near Eagle Park Reservoir.
The Vail Daily reported on October 13 that “According to Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu, this purchase is for actual water, not just legal rights to it. The purchase price — about $15,000 per acre foot — is actually less than the current price to lease that water. Having ‘wet’ water at the headwaters of the Eagle River is a valuable asset that can be used in the future.”
The water is intended to be used at the Eagle Park Reservoir.
Most water is tightly regulated in prior appropriation states, but what about rain water, the water that falls on your roof? In some states, the rule is still clear: This is water that simply hasn’t yet gotten to a stream but will get there, and when it does it probably has been accounted for by someone’s water right – so you can’t have it. But in some other states, the rule is less clear.
it declared a purpose “to 1) clarify that a water right is not required for on-site storage and use of rooftop or guzzler collected rainwater, and 2) identify the Department of Ecology’s intent to regulate the storage and use of rooftop or guzzler collected rainwater if and when the cumulative impact of such rainwater harvesting is likely to negatively affect instream values or existing water rights.”
Put another way, the department will continue evaluation of whether rainwater collection has a significant impact on the rest of the water use system, and take action if it does.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the water rally/governor’s office
A group of state and local officials working on a large-scale water law package, and a prospective special session, held a rally on October 9 at Sacramento near the Statehouse, to highlight their efforts.
The lead speaker was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has made passage of the package a major goal for the year.
Among his comments:
And of course in the building behind me here we are on the verge of a historic breakthrough on water, so I’m very happy that the negotiations are going well. We are right now in the middle of the negotiations and I think that all of you are here today to give the legislators this extra little push that they need to get across the finish line. And if they need a little bit more then you are even ready to give them that hard shove to get across the finish line, so we are very happy about that. (Applause)
And of course the water package that we are negotiating is big, it’s historic. And I can promise you that we are fighting for a comprehensive water package. I’m fighting for cleaning our groundwater, I’m fighting to restore the Delta and its ecosystem and I’m fighting for above-the-ground and below-the-ground water storage. (Applause) Exactly, which we need so badly. And I’m fighting to rebuild our crumbling water system and of course, most importantly, also to get more water to the desperately needed areas, which are our businesses and our homes and our farmers here in the state of California.
For three years we have been talking about this and pushing and negotiating. And like all of you, I’m tired of the posturing, I’m tired of the talking and I’m tired of the empty promises that we have heard over and over, to get it done next week, or we’ll get it now next month and we’ll get it done next year. No more of that. We are sick and tired of the dialogue; we want to see the action now. We’re not waiting another year, we’re not waiting another month, we’re not waiting another week. We’re going to get it done today.
A number of northern Californians have grown increasingly irritated at the water package proposed for a possible special session of the state legislature, saying it cold damage water supplies and rights in parts of the north, to the benefit of the south.
On October 9, a coalition from the region said they would begin lobbying for basic changes in the water plans.
Officials of the Placer County Water Agency are outraged that the water rights and investments for Placer County and other northern California counties are not being considered as the Governor and State Legislature pursue major changes to the Delta and state water laws.
“We’re doing everything we can to protect the water supplies for all of the people of Placer County,” said PCWA General Manager David Breninger, who has joined with many other north state water leaders who are carrying their message to the Capitol.
“Northern California is excluded from representation as the Legislature and the Governor meet in closed sessions to determine the fate of the Delta, to dictate water usage and to carve up water rights,” said Breninger.
North state water leaders fear that local water supplies, usage and rates will be adversely changed forever by legislation that is one-sided and designed to supply water to western San Joaquin Valley farmers and coastal California cities at the expense of northern Californians.
In an October 5 letter to legislative leaders, PCWA Board Chairman Gray Allen said the agency is opposed to legislation that requires “top-down uniform imposition of specific cutbacks by state mandate.
“Placer County Water Agency cannot support a water package that does not respect the massive local water supply investments that have been made and the vigorous measures that have been made by some water suppliers, including PCWA, to achieve water use efficiency.”
The legislature is proposing a mandated 20 percent reduction of water to inland California, such as Placer County – while coastal counties are asked to reduced by 5 percent. “PCWA adamantly opposes any water rationing mandate scheme by the State as it will harm Placer County’s farms, cities and quality of life,” said Allen.
PCWA is one of 18 north state cities, agencies, districts, authorities and associations in an advocacy group called The Upstream Coalition, which is carrying a northern California perspective of concerns and advocacy to legislative leaders.
Water rights and water wars: They’re not just a western movie any more. As states grow and water supplies don’t the western states continue in their struggles to find enough water to meet the ever growing needs. A favorite Mark Twain quote (it may or may not have actually been his) in the west has been, “Whiskey’s for drinking; water’s for fighting.” Today he could just as easily have been referring to the drought-ridden eastern states where water conflicts are becoming commonplace and eastern water users are looking to the west for ideas on handling an issue that a decade ago they never thought to be addressing. The Water Gates reviews water supplies, uses and rights to use water in all 50 states.242 pages, available from Ridenbaugh Press, $15.95
The Snake River Basin Adjudication is one of the largest water adjudications the United States has ever seen, and it may be the most successful. Here's how it happened, from the pages of the SRBA Digest, for 16 years the independent source on the massive case - advances, slips, false starts and unexpected leaps.