College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

Study Underscores Impact of Court Imposed Water Pumping Restrictions

December 12, 2008

A study prepared by Berkeley Economic Consulting, under the direction of David Sunding, professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, outlines the statewide economic and water supply implications of ongoing water pumping restrictions imposed by federal courts in California to protect the Delta smelt. In early December, 2008, environmental and sport-fishing groups filed suit to force the complete and total shutdown of delta water pumping operations.

According to the study, statewide economic impacts can exceed $1 billion per year during drought years such as those currently facing the state, and may well exceed $3 billion should the state enter a prolonged dry period. Additionally, the report documents the severe water supply implications of the Court's orders. Even during average and wet periods the Court imposed restrictions exacerbate ongoing drought conditions by limiting the ability of water managers to replenish water storage facilities and groundwater reserves. The net result is a significant additional blow to the state economy and a greatly reduced ability to respond to severe drought and other emergencies.

"The export restrictions imposed in a effort to conserve the Delta smelt clearly add significant new risks to California's water supply system," said Sunding. "The water pumping restrictions not only worsen the current drought, they also ensure that water rationing, fallowed farm land and economic dislocation will be the norm. The study highlights the unsustainable nature of the state's current water system. Rather than a series of court-imposed restrictions aimed at individual species, California would benefit from a more comprehensive fix for the delta."

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