In his report, Wilson recommends that the State Board employ this doctrine to promote agricultural water use efficiency. The doctrine states a water right does not include the right to waste water and mandates that “the water resources of the state be put to beneficial use,” according to the Planning and Conservation League Insider.
A small percentage of increased agricultural water use efficiency adds up to significant water savings in California, according to Wilson. The report recommends that the State Board convene a “Reasonable Use Summit” to develop specific actions to improve efficiency and create a “Reasonable Use Unit” within the Division of Water Rights.
“The Reasonable and Beneficial Use Doctrine (Reasonable Use Doctrine) is the cornerstone of California’s complex water rights laws,” says Wilson. “All water use must be reasonable and beneficial regardless of the type of underlying water right. No one has an enforceable property interest in the unreasonable use of water.”
“Maximizing the efficient use of water by projects that reduce consumptive water use is particularly important for the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta,” Wilson states. “More efficient use of water upstream of the Delta can increase water flows into the Delta. More efficient water use within the Delta can increase Delta outflows. Reducing the amount of agricultural return Delta flow, both upstream of and in the Delta, has important water quality benefits.”
Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, told the LA Times on January 11, “I think it’s long past time that the state focus on what is really a reasonable and beneficial use of our water. There’s been no effort to identify and challenge unreasonable uses of water.”
While environmental and fishing groups were glad that Wilson’s report urges the board to promote agricultural water use efficiency by employing the Reasonable Use Doctrine, agribusiness representatives slammed the report.
“The report by the Delta Watermaster takes California in a new and potentially dangerous direction with respect to agricultural water use efficiency,” said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. “The relationship between on-farm irrigation efficiency and true basin-level water conservation can be very confusing. Basin-wide efficiency can be quite high relative to on-farm efficiency due to re-use of water from farm to farm. You simply cannot apply an estimate of on-farm water savings to an entire basin to estimate net transferable water conservation.”
He claimed that irrigation experts at California State University, Fresno, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and UC Davis have identified this “same mistake” in other reports that claim millions of acre-feet of potential savings using this “erroneous method.”
For many years, environmentalists, fishermen and Indian Tribes have pointed to the irrigation of drainage impaired land, laced with selenium and other toxic salts and heavy metals, by Westlands Water District and other water contractors on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley as a prime example of “unreasonable use” of water.
Fish advocates point out that imperiled Sacramento River chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish are confronted with a “double whammy” because of these unsustainable agribusiness practices.
First, water is exported from the estuary, resulting in less water for fish and the killing of millions of fish in the state and federal Delta pumps.
Second, selenium and other salts and minerals go back into the San Joaquin River drainage after the land is irrigated, resulting in declining water quality on the Delta.
Retirement of drainage impaired land, combined with increased water conservation by urban and agricultural users, would yield more water that is needed to restore Sacramento River salmon and Delta fish populations and improve water quality. Retirement of selenium-filled soil and water conservation are the real solutions to solving California’s ecosystem and water supply needs, not building a peripheral canal estimated to cost $23 billion to $53.8 billion and new dams.
Wilson will present his report, entitled “The Reasonable Use Doctrine and Agricultural Water Use Efficiency,” at the next State Board Meeting Session on Wednesday, January 19. The meeting will begin at 9:00 a.m. in the Coastal Hearing Room, Second Floor, Joe Serna Jr./Cal/EPA Building, 1001 I Street, Sacramento. For more information, click here.