According to ca.gov, California is in their fourth year of unprecedented drought with record low snowpack. The low snowpack not only affects the ski conditions in Tahoe, but reduces the Sierra Nevada Mountain watershed “frozen storage” of surface water. This frozen water storage accumulates during the winter and melts gradually into reservoirs and streams during the summer, sustains the supply into fall. Record low snowfall levels will have lasting impacts. Specifically, the Mountain Counties Water Resource Association reports the Sierra Nevada headwaters provide up to 2/3 of California’s developed water supply and 15% of the state’s carbon-free hydro-electric power generation.
Noah Diffenbaugh,Associate Professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Senior Fellow in the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University,was quoted as saying “global warming is causing statewide warming in California…” Additionally, “[l]ow precipitation is not the only factor in creating drought – temperature also plays a critical role by impacting soil moisture, snowpack and demand for water.” Logically it is the warming temperatures resulting from climate change that are exacerbating California’s long-standing drought.
To combat the effects for the citizens, wildlife and fisheries, Governor Brown in March 2015 signed a $1million emergency funding for drought relief which is used in part for emergency food aid, drinking water, water recycling, and species tracking.Additionally, Governor Brown signed California’s Emergency Drought Regulation adopting new regulations under California Code title 23 including mandatory water conservation measures, which will expire on April 25, 2015. However, these efforts are only part of the plan.
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) is moving to install an emergency, temporary rock barrier, to be removed in November, across a Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta channel in order to repel salinity and protect fish and wildlife. And the State Water Resources Control Board is warning that water right holders are likely to be curtailed soon within key watersheds in the state. Curtailment is a tool that the State Water Board uses to administer the state’s water rights system when there is insufficient water available to meet all the demand in a watershed. It means that water right holders will be told to stop diverting surface water and such actions have historically led to litigation including Takings claims over property rights.
According to the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, part of the purpose of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (1992) is to “Achieve a reasonable balance among competing demands for use of Central Valley Project water, including the requirements of fish and wildlife, agricultural, municipal and industrial and power contractors”. It is the authority of such regulations that the claims often fail.