Empowers Citizens, Unlocks Information, Improves Water Management
SACRAMENTO, CA – Former Brown Administration Resources Secretary Huey Johnson, president of the Resource Renewal Institute, today unveiled the first-ever public “California Water Rights Atlas.” This online tool enables citizens, policymakers, media and others to view thousands of current California water rights claims. RRI is a nonprofit, public interest organization, and is providing this “gift of information” to the people of California free of charge. The Water Rights Atlas addresses California’s water crisis by opening, organizing, and distilling dysfunctional state-level data to improve efficiency and access for water resource managers and the public.
“For the past century, powerful special interests claimed ownership of both real and imaginary water through political contributions. Other states outgrew this corrupt practice long ago, but not California. The California Water Rights Atlas may be the sunlight that finally breaks the fog bank of chaos and mismanagement that cripples the state’s water system,” said RRI President Johnson. “California’s water crisis is exacerbated by incomplete, inaccessible data. Currently, water rights holders claim they divert, in aggregate, approximately 250 million acre feet of water each year. But California receives just 71 million acre feet of usable water from annual precipitation on average. We’ve created a water rights atlas to provide real-time and open information to create more effective citizen participants.”
Water information is a public right.
According to the California Constitution’s Public Trust Doctrine, the state’s water is a public resource to be managed by the government on behalf of the people. “Information about water use, management, and governance is a public right,” said Johnson. “But without effective access to water rights information, citizens have been at a disadvantage. Well-connected special interests have been able to use information as power, to muscle others out of line when water is scarce. The new Atlas puts every citizen on equal footing with the most powerful special interests.”
“Problems with the state’s data infrastructure have directly contributed to cumbersome, inefficient water management and marginal civic engagement. Inconsistent and incomplete data resulted in wasted time, wasted money, and wasted opportunities. Increasing pressure on California’s water resources makes opening this state-level information to engaged citizens, conservation nonprofits, water rights holders, journalists, and other agencies crucial,” said Johnson.
In 1979, the Governor’s office of California published the California Water Atlas, a book dedicated to providing citizens with a strong starting point to tackle looming water scarcity and give clarity to a complex system. The Atlas tells the story of water supply, management, history, and governance through elegant maps and graphics.
This California Water Rights Atlas is the first in a series of new visualizations that will comprise a next-generation edition of the California Water Atlas. This atlas enhances and modernizes the systems-based perspective by leveraging real-time feedback, citizen participation, and open data. The Atlas encourages smart, balanced, transparent and rapid decision making on water at the state level by sharing its complex management information. This is particularly important given the increasing urgency and impacts of climate change on demand, supply, and use.
“Until now, data about California’s complex water rights system has been woefully unorganized, inconsistent, and difficult to navigate,” said Director of Research Laci Videmsky. “Information was scattered across many sites, and users were confronted by multiple data formats with few options for automated retrieval.
“Today, we launch the California Water Rights Atlas compiling real-time information on water conveyance, remote in-stream sensor data, and water diversion reports. Our California Water Rights Atlas demonstrates how state environmental data can be brought together into a single intuitive and searchable interface and made available to the people of California to safeguard their water rights,” said Lead Engineer Chach Sikes, a Code for America 2011 Alumna.
“The new California Water Rights Atlas (http://ca.statewater.org/water-rights) provides Californians with dynamic maps and data visualizations that clearly articulate how water is governed and managed. The Atlas improves upon data from the State Water Resources Control Board and the USGS, and establishes a model that can be applied to other natural resources. The California Water Rights Atlas makes a complex system more understandable for all,” said Videmsky.
Since 1985, Resource Renewal Institute has facilitated the creation, development, and implementation of practical strategies to solve environmental problems in a comprehensive framework. With over fifty years of experience in business, government, and nonprofit sectors, RRI founder Huey D. Johnson favors a diverse focus on many environmental issues. RRI maintains a streamlined organizational structure and works with expert consultants from around the world (http://www.rri.org).