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Open Access Publications from the University of California

California Central Valley Water Rights in a Changing Climate


Climate change and resulting changes in hydrology are already altering—and are expected in the future to continue to alter—the timing and amount of water flowing through rivers and streams. As these changes occur, the historical reliability of existing water rights will change. This study evaluates future water rights reliability in the Sacramento–Feather–American river watersheds. Because adequate data are not available to conduct a comprehensive analysis of water rights reliability, a condition placed into certain water rights, known as Term 91, is used to model projected water rights curtailment actions. Comparing the frequency and length of the historical and simulated future water diversion curtailments provides a useful projection of water rights reliability and water scarcity in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta (Delta) watershed.

Projections of future water rights curtailments show that water rights holders are likely to be curtailed much more frequently, and for significantly longer durations, as we move through the 21st century. Further, many more water rights holders will be affected by curtailment actions in the future. As curtailments last longer and become more common, more water users will have to access other supplies, such as groundwater or water transfers, or will have to fallow land or conserve water in other ways to meet their demands. These activities will likely ratchet up the potential for additional conflicts over water in the Delta watershed.


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