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Freshwater Program
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Freshwater Program

The key goal of Environment Now's Freshwater Program is to:

  • Ensure that California’s water resources are managed in an effective and equitable manner that provides a high quality and reliable water supply to the natural environment and population

California’s water management system currently prioritizes the consumptive use of water over environmental uses. As a result, the allocation of environmental water is not adequate to sustain California’s freshwater ecosystems. In the next 30 years, the competition for water among its primary uses (urban, agricultural and environmental) will continue to intensify as California’s population grows and as global warming alters the state’s precipitation regime. Without a strong advocacy effort to protect water for environmental uses, California’s ecosystems will deteriorate, perhaps to a point where they cannot be restored.

Southern California’s Water Future

Given the distant source (San Francisco Bay Delta) of more than half of Southern California’s water supply, Southern California faces a unique water supply situation. The South Coast depends on three major systems supplemented by local sources: the State Water Project’s California Aqueduct, the Department of Water and Power’s Los Angeles Aqueducts, and the Metropolitan Water District’s Colorado Aqueduct. Delivery from each of these sources is limited to less than capacity because of various problems ranging from drought; habitat, species and water quality concerns in the Bay Delta; climate change; and energy use. As the region approaches the limit of available imported water, sustainable local water supplies must be developed to meet the expected growing population demand.

Southern California has a great opportunity to improve water use efficiency, increase the appropriate and safe uses of recycled water, and better manage groundwater supplies. 

Recycled Water Pipe
Picture courtesy of
West Basin Municipal Water District

Water Rights

While agriculture is locking in long-term water at sweetheart rates, the current political climate has emboldened private entities to attempt to elevate their “water rights” to “property rights.” Recently when drought, environmental protection or other circumstances precluded the full delivery of contracted water, contractors seized the opportunity to claim a “taking” of their water by suing the delivering agency for the cost of the undelivered water. If courts verify these takings claims, taxpayers will essentially indemnify farms and water agencies against natural drought and necessary environmental protection. This is an incorrect application of the law. It would result in windfall financial gains for the agricultural industry and a complete disregard for environmental water needs and adequate environmental protection. 

Water Subsidies

In California, 80% of the developed water supply is used for agricultural purposes. The State’s primary agricultural region (the Central Valley) receives approximately 3 million acre feet of water from the Central Valley Project (CVP), which is operated by the federal Bureau of Reclamation. The CVP delivers heavily subsidized water to agricultural irrigation districts based on long-term (40-year) contracts. These long-term CVP contracts will be re-negotiated and renewed in the next few years. Historically, the CVP contracts have favored large allocations of water for agricultural purposes, often at the expense of environmental needs, residential rates, and laws. Environment Now anticipates that the Bureau of Reclamation will continue delivering excessive amounts of water to the Central Valley agricultural water districts for the same taxpayer-subsidized rates unless the environmental community rigorously challenges these unfair contracts.

Water Irrigation