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Committee approves audit of state water operations
don pedro

Assemblymember Adam Gray (D-Merced) announced in June that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee has approved his request to audit California’s water operations. 

Gray suspects the audit will shine a light on the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board and their failures to accurately forecast California’s water supply and the impacts of those flawed forecasts on reservoir operations and the allocation of water to rights holders.

Gray cited the overestimation and premature release of 700,000 acre-feet of water last year as one of his prime considerations

“Errors on this scale have real and measurable consequences,” said Gray. “The managers of the largest local, state, and federal reservoirs use this information to determine when to let water accumulate and when to let water out to make room for the coming snowmelt. Growers use the information to predict how much water they can expect for their farms and how many acres they can afford to plant. The estimates are used to inform everything from flood control to power generation and water quality standards.”

Gray pointed out that other public agencies – including local irrigation districts and a federal agency whose duties include calculating how much water is in the annual snowpack – did not make similar mistakes. 

“Other organizations forecasting the same water content and runoff estimates from the same patches of snow have already adapted,” said Gray. “DWR should be a leader in this space, but instead, they are playing catchup to many of the same organizations that have been telling them to fix these problems for decades.”

The Department of Water Resources released huge sums of water last year in anticipation of spring runoff that did not materialize, draining reservoirs and leaving operators with less stored water than was necessary. This mismanagement is especially noteworthy as the drought persists into 2022 and water becomes increasingly scarce.

“No one expects DWR or any of these organizations to get the number exactly right,” said Gray. “But when the state’s best forecasts are demonstrably inferior to local and federal forecasts we need to ask why, and we need to fix the problems as soon as possible. Until we understand what has gone wrong with the agencies charged with managing California’s water, we cannot understand how to fix the problem.”

With the audit now approved, a representative from the State Auditor’s office told the Committee the audit would take six to seven months to complete.