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Originally published August 31 2014

Despite California's drought, residents are promised access to several times more water than is actually available

by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) There is a major water crisis currently sweeping California, and experts say outdated water allocation data is making the problem even worse. In many areas of the state, say experts, water control measures, many of which were established back in the 1920s and 1930s, have over-promised water that doesn't actually exist, and water regulators are scrambling to make things right as the Golden State limps through one of the worst droughts in recorded history.

According to the Los Angeles Register (LAR), the state has promised about five times more water to residents, businesses and public utilities than is actually available from its vast network of reservoirs, distribution canals and aquifers. This is because the State Water Resources Control Board does not actually know how much water is currently being used throughout the state, nor does it have accurate data on how much can legally and feasibly be distributed.

A new study on the subject explains that there is such a significant backlog in water allocation data that state water regulators and local water managers are stumped as to where water use needs to be further restricted, and where it might need to be loosened. Despite the fact that more than 60 percent of the state is currently suffering through "exceptional" drought conditions, the most severe level, some freshwater is still reaching the ocean, for instance, which means it is being wasted.

"If they don't know how much water is being used, they'll have to use a pretty blunt instrument," explained study author Ted Grantham to LAR.

Many areas of California aren't even using the amount of water promised under the law

Back in the early part of the 20th century when most of California's water allocation data was compiled, the state's population was a mere fraction of what it is today. A lot has changed since that time, including the Central Valley becoming a national hub of agriculture -- this region consumes a bulk of California's water supply, more than 40 percent according to recent data.

With conditions as they currently are, many of the streams and waterways that provide water throughout California are running dry. And this is occurring even as many areas draw less water than they are technically allowed to under the law, meaning that, if every area was exercising its full water rights, California's water crisis could snowball into a complete infrastructure collapse.

According to LAR, the most overused rivers are located primarily in Northern California, and mainly constitute those that flow from the Sierra Nevada mountains down into the Central Valley toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In these areas, existing water rights exceed actual water availability by a factor of six or more, according to experts.

"If everyone was exercising their water rights and the full legal entitlement, we would have a lot more dry rivers than we do now," said Grantham. "There's a big discrepancy between how much water has been used and how much is promised."

Southern California has a similar problem on its hands, as water users have been promised more water than actually exists. Users drawing from the Santa Ana River, for instance, which serves as the main source of basin replenishment in Orange County, are currently entitled to 183 percent of the annual runoff from the river, or nearly twice what it actually provides in a given year.

"The first step is to get good numbers," said Grantham, who is calling on the State Water Resources Control Board to begin the laborious but necessary process of revising its usage numbers.

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