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Water Rights Issues: What Californians Need to Know

Agriculture Water Supply
Agriculture has always been important to California's economy and the residents of the entire state. California’s sheer size, expansive areas of fertile soil, and favorable climate conditions have made it a natural fit for the production of both crops and livestock since its settlement. In fact, the state currently leads the nation in agricultural production, including dairy products, and has now done so for 50 years.
California's maintenance of a healthy agricultural industry is also critically important to residents of other states. Because of the scope and diversity of the agricultural products produced, residents of other states are able to enjoy a more affordable and stable food supply. But the ongoing water issues make farming more difficult for many of California's food producers. 
Understanding the Size of Agriculture's Stake in the Water Fight
Although the recent years of severe drought placed tremendous strain on the state's agricultural industry, water rights issues place additional stress on this vital industry. Many of the state's farmers are concerned about losing their crops or farms if insufficient water is available for irrigation purposes. 
According to recent information provided by the Water Education Foundation, there are currently some 80,500 farms and ranches operating in the state, producing in excess of 400 products. In 2012 alone, this level of production resulted in more than $44 billion dollars in sales and accounted for 3 percent of total employment throughout the state. 
There is little argument that the state's agricultural industry is a major contributor to the nation's food supply and equally important to the economy, but farmers worry that water rights issues will continue to add complexity to their jobs.
Acknowledging That the Groundwater Deficit Continues Even Now
Groundwater and surface water are the two main sources of water available for the farming and fishing industries, as well as the general water usage needs of the state's residents. The year 2017 brought periods of welcome rainfall to many areas of the state, effectively helping to ease the previous six years of drought. Unfortunately, it was not enough to refresh the previously vast groundwater supplies. 
Historically, during non-drought years, approximately 30 percent of the state's water supply is pumped from the ground. During the recent long-term drought, however, groundwater usage grew to more than twice that amount.
Although pumping groundwater is often necessary for relieving water supply issues, pumping too much groundwater can also create other worrisome conditions, including causing large areas of land to subside, or sink.
The San Joaquin Valley is just one example where the pumping of groundwater has resulted in the floor of the valley sinking. In addition, several other bowl-like depressions have formed in other areas of the state, some of which have now slowed the rate at which they are sinking due to receiving a more healthy level of rainfall last year. 
Finding Wise Solutions for the Future
Californians must rise to the occasion and look for a solution that offers a positive, proactive solution to ongoing water rights issues without further damage to the state's agricultural industry.
Some possible solutions to consider include: 
  • Pioneering dryer farming methods or the use of crops that require less water
  • Finding better ways to desalinate ocean water 
  • Improving wastewater recycling efforts
Another possible option would be to advocate for fair, equitable legislation that will help to find a way forward for both farming and fishing. Californians should make an effort to stay informed on the issues while retaining an awareness that a healthy agricultural industry is important for everyone.
Waterford Irrigation is committed to a safe, plentiful water supply for every resident, and we encourage open, meaningful discussions regarding the water rights issues facing California. Whether you need assistance with an irrigation system or just want to talk about the water issues we all face, speak with us.