What’s Really Killing The Salmon: What is the Role of the Law When Faced With Scientific Uncertainty and a Fractured Governmental System?
Salmon degradation has played a major role in California water management. The California Department of Fish and Game estimates that in the 1930's there were likely 15,000 fish annually in the river. In the mid-20th century, as diversions from the river increased, the salmon population began to decline. In response, agencies took steps to improve habitat and increase the salmon population. This inevitably led to litigation, such as the issue of the Coordinated Operations of the CVP and SWP, on what methods were best suited for salmon restoration taking into account multiple interests and the best available science.
Over the last two decades, scientists, regulated, and interested parties have been trying to better understand the causes of the salmon population decline. Besides studies of flow and its relationship to the health of the salmon population, there have been just as many studies implicating a variety of other stressors. These include predation, habitat degradation, water quality, climate change and the overall health of the Delta. Studies show that collectively these stressors have led to the degradation of the salmon population and that their only chance of survival is to address these stressors collectively. Unfortunately, since these biological studies take years to complete and rarely offer the kind of definitive answers parties seek, scientists and resource managers are not ready to conclusively state that even comprehensive restoration efforts will bring the salmon back.
What should the role of law, lawyers and judges be in addressing the salmon population’s decline and recovery?
Water Courts: Are they right for California?
Colorado's seven Water Courts are distributed across the state's seven major river basins. With the authority of a district court they have exclusive subject-matter jurisdiction over determination of water rights, use and administration of water, and all other matters related to water. Is this system right for California? Will specialized courts provide efficiency and predictability? Will they incentivize litigation?
Stopping Ground Water Overdraft in California
Since the state was formed, groundwater consumption in California has gone almost entirely unregulated. While the law has created systems of apportionment through the California Constitution and the Correlative Rights Doctrine, comprehensive regulations against overdraft have remained inexistent. As a result, many water tables in the state have dropped to critical levels, and yet presently, the problem remains largely neglected. With California now deriving close to 40% of its annual water supply from groundwater, it has become more imperative than ever to focus our attention on preventing this unsustainable use of our most precious resource.This panel will focus on the current problems in groundwater overdrafting, as well as the methods available for curbing present practices.
Finding Common Ground in the Klamath Basin
The Klamath River Basin has seen decades of dispute among instream interests (tribal, fishing, and conservation) and offstream interests (farming, ranching, and hydropower generation). In 2001 drought conditions led to the shutdown of Klamath reclamation project operations, resulting in many ranches and fields going dry. In 2002 the Bureau of Reclamation reversed course and increased irrigation deliveries, contributing to a record fish die-off. Coming on top of years of lawsuits, those events drove stakeholders to sit down and begin talking.
The results of nearly five years of negotiation were the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, proposing removal of four privately-owned hydroelectric dams on the mainstem Klamath River and reoperation of the upstream Klamath Project dams. Proponents claim the agreements will provide for both fish recovery and more reliable irrigation deliveries. Opponents criticize the agreements for reasons ranging from inadequate protections for fish and wildlife, to the lack of a basin-wide approach to water and species management, to alleged political interference in scientific reviews. With several notable exceptions, many stakeholders signed the agreements in 2010.
Nearly three years later, the agreements remain in a precarious position. Authorizing legislation has stalled in Congress, and funding from the State of California remains dependent upon a water bond act that will not be on the ballot until 2014. At the same time, the record return of 380,000 chinook salmon to the Klamath River in 2012 renewed questions about the benefits, costs, and risks of dam removal. This panel will concentrate on both the successes of the stakeholder process and the lingering scientific, economic, and political barriers to finding a lasting peace in the basin.
Water and Energy: Opportunities and Challenges
There is considerable focus on the energy needed to produce water in California. However, it is equally important that attention be paid to the water that is needed to produce energy; growing demand for energy may stress limited water supplies in California. Expanding oil shale development relies on water from the Colorado River Basin, while solar and wind generation provide energy without water until hydroelectric dams are used to stabilize supply. Does California's energy sector have a growing demand for water? What legal challenges may this pose (e.g., will it lead to increased litigation)? What opportunities may reduce the water intensity of energy? Do any renewable sources demand water?
Re-“Addressing Nitrate in California’s Drinking Water”
Last March, the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences released a groundbreaking report to the California Legislature. “Addressing Nitrate in California’s Drinking Water” marked the completion of the first comprehensive scientific investigation of nitrate contamination in the Tulare Lake Basin area and confirmed that many Californians do not have reliable access to safe drinking water. The report defined the extent of contamination, suggested potential solutions, and outlined possible mechanisms for funding remedial measures. A panel of stakeholders will analyze what this report contributes to the conversation about the state of California’s groundwater and necessary steps we must take to secure clean, affordable drinking water for affected Californians.
The All-American Canal: Opportunity for Cooperation in Transnational Water Apportionment
Percolation along the All-American Canal resulted in inefficient water export to Southern California. Water from the Canal seeps into the Mexicali Valley Aquifer. The Aquifer sustains wetlands and irrigates Mexican farmlands. When the U.S. proposed to line the All-American Canal in order to maximize the capture of transported water, concerns arose that Mexico's water needs would not be met. This created conflict between the U.S. and Mexico.
The All-American Canal has been lined. The Lining Project replaced 23 miles of earthen canal with concrete. The project has received awards and been recognized as a model for creating partnerships between local and state water agencies in the US. But what has the project meant for Mexico and US-Mexico relations?
This panel will discuss the past, present, and future benefits and consequences of the All-American Canal Lining Project and ways to achieve equitable water apportionment with Mexico.
California Water Markets: Encouraging Cooperation, Protecting Third Parties
Water markets increase reliability of water supplies and encourage cooperation between water rights holders. However, if not well designed they can also have major effects on third parties in the localities from which this water is diverted. Many counties in California have attempted to address these concerns by passing water export ordinances to restrict certain transfers of water, even as policies are in place at state and federal levels to encourage water markets. Other approaches compensate members of communities affected by large-scale water transfers or compensate water rights when restricting transfers. What is the most effective way to encourage, restrict, and manage these water markets? On what level should transfers of California's water be regulated?