California's water system can adapt to climate change, new study shows

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A study released last Tuesday outlines how California currently allocates water and proposes changes to the system.


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AUGUST 07, 2012

A study released last Tuesday by the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment at the UC Berkeley School of Law outlines how California currently allocates water, in addition to proposing changes to the system that could be vital to preserving the water supply given current issues with climate change.

The report, funded by the California Energy Commission, largely revolves around adaptation, which involves making changes to the California water system that will be politically feasible now or in the future to better manage the state’s water supply.

According to the report, the water supply exists in two categories — groundwater and surface water. As temperatures rise with climate change, surface water availability will be reduced, shifting California’s reliance to that on groundwater supply.

“The poor administration of surface water rights and the very inadequate management of groundwater pumping will cause major problems with these changes resulting from climate change,” said Michael Hanemann, a UC Berkeley professor of agricultural and resource economics and a co-author of the study.

Currently, California landowners have no restrictions to pumping groundwater from wells on their land, meaning their consumption is not metered, according to Hanemann. Although the California Department of Water Resources measures groundwater levels, any drop that is detected cannot be attributed to any entity in particular.

“Being able to measure groundwater levels, but not measuring who is doing the pumping, is an exercise in futility,” Hanemann said. “The first step would be giving authority to measure groundwater withdrawals.”

The study also indicates that increases in state population —  which is expected to rise from 36.7 million in 2005 to 59.5 million in 2050, an increase of more than 60 percent — will pose an additional strain on the supply of water.

“The growing California population will put additional stress on the water system,” said Berkeley School of Law Professor Dan Farber, another co-author of the study, in an email. “Some of our key recommendations include a new system for monitoring and recording water use, which is essential for better planning, and better methods for controlling the use of groundwater, which is rapidly being exhausted.”

In essence, monitoring the water supply more closely will be the beginning of California’s move toward better water management, according to Deborah Lambe, the study’s third co-author and senior policy associate at the Berkeley School of Law.

“The information those kinds of rules will generate can help California adapt to climate change by establishing a baseline of how much water the state is using and by identifying changes in both supply and demand over time,” Lambe said.

According to California Energy Commission spokesperson Alison apRoberts, the report is only one of more than 30 similar papers conducted by 26 research teams from the UC system and other research groups statewide regarding climate change research. The studies will serve as a foundation for the state’s 2012 Climate Adaptation Strategy, which is set to be completed in December.

Contact Mateo Garcia at 


AUGUST 09, 2012

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