“Paper water” is the idea that government has promised more in rights to water than there is water that flows in Nature’s rivers and streams in California. There is far more water “on paper” than there is in California’s water ways.
The fact that this discrepancy has languished for decades is a sign of magical thinking on the part of water industry officials and regulators in California.
For every acre-foot of real water in the Central Valley watershed, 8.4 acre-feet of water on paper has been promised by the state where only 1 acre-foot may actually be diverted, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.
The historical agencies of California responsible for post-1914 appropriative water rights vastly overcommitted water from the Bay-Delta’s Central Valley watershed streams. In September 2008, the State Water Resources Control Board reported to the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force (scroll to bottom of page for “Water Rights Within the Bay/Delta Watershed”) that while the Central Valley watershed of California has an average annual runoff of 29 million acre-feet, the face value of water rights granted by the state to appropriative water right holders amounted to 245 million acre-feet.
Paper water can take two basic forms when:
- Water rights issued for a watershed exceed the water actually available.
- Water service contract allocations within a project prove to be consistently unreliable.
- In 2012, C-WIN testified to the State Water Resources Control Board about water availability analysis: Read more here.
The existence of paper water arouses conflict with holders of riparian rights, such as occurs between the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project with Delta riparian farmers.
California’s water policy is founded on a decades-old water deficit, one that will only be compounded by Jerry Brownʼs Twin Tunnels project —a boondoggle scheme that would attempt to meet unsustainable contractual obligations by draining the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta of fresh water. The real issue here is not about how water is conveyed; itʼs about whether there is enough water for more conveyance or storage.
When California officials built the State Water Project in 1960, they knew it would run out of water by 1981. To make up the shortfall, the state over-appropriated water from the Delta. Read more here.