Managing water under California’s broken water system

California’s farm water suppliers don’t shy away from hard work. They never have-but our broken water system (graphic) continues to erode their ability to do the most important part of their job- managing and delivering the water used to grow the food and fiber we all depend on.

With the ever-escalating demand of more than 15 different overlapping agencies that require farm water suppliers to meet perpetually-changing regulatory processes, it’s little wonder that despite bountiful water provided by nature- scarcity and uncertainty continue to burden farms, rural communities, and even our cities.

A recent Sacramento Bee Editorial underscored the complexity of managing water under California’s broken system, claiming that not filing a form with the Department of Water Resources (DWR) has left Californians in the dark about where and how the water used to grow our food and fiber is delivered.

This deceptively simple form represents many hours of labor to complete- and it represents only one small element of the complex network of data reporting that farm water suppliers must complete and submit to various State, federal and regional agencies on a regular basis- each using different methods, timelines, and procedures.

The Bee’s fixation is the product of AB 1404, a bill passed in 2007 that directed DWR to develop a farm gate delivery form- but was promptly followed by the vastly more complex Water Conservation Act of 2009.

This Act, which includes the more specific legislative bill SBx7-7, instructed DWR to consult with engineers, academics and other experts to develop a comprehensive approach to implementing and reporting on water management for farm water suppliers.

SBx7-7 included comprehensive Water Management Planning protocols and a set of Efficient Water Management Practices, and mandated the development and implementation of a water measurement regulation, but also instructed DWR to work with more than five different State agencies to build a Standardized Reporting Portal to collect data, including the AB1404 form.

Over the past 10 years, farm water delivery reporting and management has changed and evolved. The goal should be to settle on a system that provides the people of California with useful information to assess how our water resources are being managed. Continuing to rely on a 10 year-old reporting process is not an efficient way to accomplish that goal.

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