Water transfers

water transfers sliderboxWater transfers can be an effective tool for water managers to provide flexibility in the allocation and use of water by moving water to where it is needed most, especially during times of drought.  Water transfers can also help accommodate shifts in water demand over the long term.  Transfers, however, must be carried out in a responsible manner in order to assure that they do not result in adverse impacts to other water users or unreasonable effects to the environment.

Toolbox Main Page IconWater transfers are transactions between sellers who may have an excess of supply and are willing to sell some of it, and buyers who need additional water supplies to meet their demands.  Transfers in California are primarily executed to meet dry-year demands rather than to obtain a primary water supply, and are particularly useful for meeting critical needs during drought periods.

A transfer is defined as a temporary or long-term change in the point of diversion, place of use, or purpose of use of water due to transfer, sale, or exchange of water or water rights.  Water can be transferred between neighboring water districts or even across the state, provided there is a means to convey or store the water.

Water can be made available for transfer in one of three main ways:  By transferring water from reservoir storage, pumping groundwater instead of using delivered surface water, or by reducing consumptive use through crop idling or crop shifting.  A key component of water transfers is determining how much water is actually available for transfer.

Which agency transfer processEach year, hundreds of water transfers occur in California, mostly between agricultural users in the same basin.  These transfers are governed by the water rights held by the water district and are a matter of internal allocation adjustments by water district members.  However, transfers that involve changes to the terms of the seller’s water rights permits or transfers that use public facilities for conveying the water must be reviewed by the State Water Resources Control Board, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Water Resources, or a combination thereof.

Water transfers between basins are not simple transactions, nor are they without controversy.  The impacts of transfers can be many, and can affect not only the area from which the water is transferred, but downstream users and instream flows as well.  Impacts can be both economic and environmental, so to ensure that these impacts are identified and minimized, transfers involving public agencies are required to comply with CEQA or NEPA.

CWP Water Transfers coverThere is also a lot of uncertainty and risk associated with water transfers; it is possible that despite adequate planning and regulatory approval, all or a portion of the water made available from the water transfer may not be exported and may be lost due to uncertainties related to hydrologic conditions, regulatory restrictions, and the availability of conveyance facilities.  Currently, federal Endangered Species Act regulations restrict transfers to the period of July through September.  Limitations on water project operations in the early winter and spring months often result in the need to maximize exports during the transfer window, further limiting the available export capacity for water transfers.

Click here to read this resource management strategy from the California Water Plan.

 

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