Keats: California water projects rely on imaginary water By Adam Keats, Mercury News.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and San Joaquin Valley agribusiness would have us believe that bureaucratic red tape and blind adherence to environmental laws are holding back the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, preventing water from being delivered to thirsty farms and cities.

Aside from pushing a false conflict between farms and fish, this thinking is flawed for another reason: It grossly overstates the amount of water capable of being produced by the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project.

The fundamental problem for water contractors dependent on Bay-Delta water supplies is not that the fish are getting too much water, but rather that the water isn’t there. Big Ag knows this full well because it baked this fact into the State Water Project contracts.

State Water Project contractors hold contracts for about 4.2 million acre-feet per year of project water (often referred to as “Table A Water”). Yet, as the Department of Water Resources admits, because much of the system was never built out — including several proposed dams that were taken off the table by Gov. Ronald Reagan when he protected several rivers as Wild and Scenic. So the State Water Project can only reliably produce between 2 and 2.4 million acre-feet per year. The difference is known as “paper water,” and the fact that the contracts are based on so much imaginary paper water is one of the main reasons the Bay-Delta ecosystem is collapsing.

The contracts are based on artificially inflated numbers because the “entitlements” set expectations high and put pressure on the state to actually deliver that amount of water.

These numbers present a false story of extreme hardship by the contractors, who even in the best years seem to only get half of the water they contract for. They put pressure on elected officials and provide false justification for bills like Feinstein’s. Continue reading here