New PPIC Report: A New Approach to Accounting for Environmental Water: Insights from the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta

From the PPIC Water Center:

How water is apportioned to California’s cities, farms, and the environment can lead to conflict and competition in times of drought. Allocation of water to the environment in particular is poorly accounted for and poorly understood—shortcomings that can affect water policy, decision making, and public perception. This report reviews the state’s long-standing methods for defining and accounting for environmental water and proposes reforms to improve the timeliness, transparency, and detail in the accounting of environmental water allocation.

Foremost among our recommendations is that the state adopt a new approach to environmental water accounting. In particular, we propose separating out two portions of environmental water that are currently lumped together: “ecosystem water” used exclusively to support fish and wildlife, and “system water” primarily managed to meet the needs of agricultural and urban water users, such as preventing high salinity levels. The state should also more consistently track water that exceeds water demands and diversion capacity (“uncaptured water”), which can provide significant benefits for water users and ecosystems. We illustrate this approach using the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta as a test case.

Click here to continue reading and to download the report.


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