Sunday, January 24, 2016

2016 California Water Law Symposium notes

Some notes  on the 2016 California Water Law Symposium:

Panelist from Santa Clara Valley Water District said the District would've preferred that Governor Brown's water conservation order had allowed the percentage ordered conserved to be increased, because the District wanted more conservation without the direct authority to order it increased (by retailers that the District supplies).

I talked to Robb Barnitt from Dropcountr, involved in measuring consumer water use, and asked if they could measure long-term conservation changes (e.g., lawn removal) versus short-term (water lawns less). He said they have some ability to do that although it's difficult. This could help plan out what future water demand will be.

One speaker said "I hope the drought continues" because we have so much momentum to change practices that she didn't want to see stopped. I've heard that sentiment a number of times from water professionals.

Another panelist, Dave Owen, said urban stormwater management might want to incentivize "hotspots," like those that maximize infiltration or pollutant reduction. That's especially relevant to the San Francisco Bay Area where much of the urban development is over perched aquifers that don't add to the water supply. One might prefer more infiltration uphill, or even create a Transferable Development Right system that would reduce downill requirements for retention if they incentivize it uphill.

Keynote speaker, Justice Robie:  a former water lawyer, he said water lawyers from other Western states would just laugh at how convoluted California water law is. He said he laughed at them though because they had no legal protections for instream flow for the environment, while California does through the public trust concept. He also said fundamentally overthrowing California water rights law is unrealistic, but many other good changes are possible. Better accountability of rights itself could be very beneficial. He did say that he's seen the more reform of California water law recently than virtually any time over his 50-year career.