The “A” word

After hearing hours of debate about emergency rules to cut off farmers from their water supply, Tom Howard dropped the “A” word:

Adjudication.

Obviously, the debate about curtailments was hot and heavy because this is a critically dry year.

But Howard, the executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board, pointed out that even in normal years officials would likely be able to conclude that water is not available for all of the people who feel they have water rights. Curtailment orders could be issued for junior, post-1914 water-right holders “probably in all average years,” he said.

If the board wants to get into the thorny issue of where water is really available, and who should get it, the board certainly can, Howard said.

“It’s very complicated,” he said. “My personal opinion is the Central Valley would benefit from an adjudication. Because if you really listen to what everyone’s been saying, they don’t have a good idea of how to cut people off because they haven’t got a clearly defined set of priorities for who has water and who doesn’t have water… You’re not going to ever get there minus some sort of adjudication on the system.”

Adjudication basically means that the board — or a judge — sits down and determines once and for all who gets water, and how much. It’s been done on a limited basis in groundwater basins mostly in Southern California, but never across an area as large as the Central Valley.

Any decision to adjudicate the entire Valley would be hugely controversial.

“That’s a 20-year process, but at least our successors 20 years from now will have some assurance they can manage another drought like this in an effective way,” Howard said.

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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