Water has been over-allocated in many parts of California, leaving too little water for fish, wildlife, recreation, and communities that depend on healthy rivers. Excessive groundwater extraction and pollution have deprived many households of water for essential needs. Climate change is reducing natural water supplies and making them more volatile.
Environmental Flow Requirements
Existing public-interest laws are designed to prevent species extinction, prevent waste and unreasonable use of water, and protect the public’s right to swim, fish and paddle. For decades, California and federal agencies have funded studies to determine how much water should be left in our rivers and streams to satisfy existing law. Too often, the recommendations of these studies are not adopted.
As climate change places increasing pressure on already stressed freshwater ecosystems, we are urging water managers to immediately adopt and enforce regional, science-based instream flow requirements that satisfy existing laws. These requirements should form the basis of ongoing regulatory processes including, but not limited to: implementation of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act; commercial cannabis permitting, Endangered Species act “safe harbor” agreements, the California Water Action Plan, and various climate-related policy processes including California’s Water Resilience
Human Right to Water
We must prioritize water for essential human needs and reject the false notion that we cannot meet domestic water needs for people, a relative drop in the bucket, without compromising rivers and endangered fish. Modest reductions in agricultural water use or outdoor watering of non-edible plants would free up enough water to satisfy essential human needs.
Conservation & Source Protection
One way to provide water for ecosystems is through water conservation and efficiency, and by protecting and restoring natural water sources including springs, meadows and wetlands. Although numerous state and federal programs support water conservation, efficiency, and source protection, these efforts don’t necessarily result in more water for ecosystems. Without instream flow requirements in place, or legal processes to dedicate conserved water to rivers and streams, the conserved water may simply be diverted to fulfill previously unexercised water rights.
Water Storage & Alternatives to New Dams
New dams are being proposed in California for water storage, climate resilience and renewable energy. Unfortunately, reservoirs created by dams lose considerable amounts of water to evaporation and they release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Water conservation, efficiency, recycling, reuse and storm-water capture provide more cost-effective and climate-friendly ways to increase water availability.