Paper records and steel vaults: Can California water rights enter the digital age?After 13 years of working in the records room, Jay can easily ...Paper records and steel vaults: Can California water rights enter the digital age?
After 13 years of working in the records room, Jay can easily rattle off the most notable water users documented there: There’s Mike Yurosek, inventor of baby carrots. Coppola Wineries, the vineyard started by Francis Ford Coppola after his blockbuster “Godfather” trilogy. And Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, which funnels enough water to rice farmers north of Sacramento to supply the city of Los Angeles several times over. Yet researching the location of every water right granted along a waterway like the Shasta River can take up to a year to complete.
California’s Byzantine system of water rights dates back to the Gold Rush, when miners declared their rights to water by nailing paper notices to trees. The oldest rights holders have seniority, and when the state restricts water use in times of drought, these senior rights holders are last to be curtailed, if at all.
California’s lack of timely and useful data became all too apparent during the 2012-2016 drought and prompted new regulations that populated a clunky data portal with new water use information. But problems remained during this most recent drought, as regulators used outdated and incomplete data to issue curtailments this past summer.