Agriculture

Gray demands audit into Calif.’s 700,000 acre-feet water loss

With the startling revelation that California lost around 700,000 acre-feet of water last year, Asm. Adam Gray (D–Merced) is calling for an investigation into the matter.

Gray requested the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to order an audit of the state’s water operations on Monday.

Per the request, the audit would explore the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board.

“Why was no one held accountable after the state grossly miscalculated how much moisture was actually stored in the Sierras last year?” Gray said. 

The Department of Water Resources was the lone agency to be off target by 700,000 acre-feet of water and released an unknown amount of water to the ocean ahead of the expected spring runoff.

That water would have provided for at least 1.4 million households for a year, Gray said. 

Last Friday, Gray revealed his intentions to request an audit at the California Water Alliance’s annual forum.

On Monday, after Gray made his request, he penned a column in CalMatters explaining his decision.

“The water is long gone, so all we have left are questions,” Gray wrote. 

Gray’s audit request will target the accuracy of the Department of Water Resources’ data collection, predictive models, reservoir operations, pumping regimes and the roles of decision-makers within the department. 

“That wasted water had value beyond what we could have done with it – grown crops, fortified reservoirs, saved a few thousand salmon. On emerging water ‘exchanges,’ where investors bet on commodity price fluctuations, California water was selling for $792.56 an acre-foot in early March. That means the state flushed away some $550 million. That’s malfeasance,” Gray wrote. 

“We need answers first, then accountability, then solutions.” 

In his column, Gray listed a series of questions regarding the water loss that he wishes to find answers for. 

The most important of which, he said, is if the state has learned anything from the miscalculation. 

“Despite the Department of Water Resources’ recent media blitz insisting it has adopted new methods of measuring snow, this February the state again appeared to be releasing far more water than it should have been,” Gray wrote. 

“Despite predictions of continued drought, which have since come true, officials were releasing roughly three times the historic median from Lake Oroville. That wasted water helped neither fish nor farmers.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.