The State Water Resources Control Board has come a long way since consolidating offices for pollution control and water rights 50 years ago, according to board chair Joaquin Esquivel. Reinvesting in that water rights system through a data-based approach will be key in the era of climate change, he explained during a presentation for the Northern California Water Association’s annual meeting on Friday.

“Frankly, it feels like we're in a bit of climate catchup,” added board member Sean Maguire. “We do have a lot of work to do. And it's really going to take everyone rolling up their sleeves to get this done.”

Maguire was excited about $30 million the Legislature allocated in 2021 for upgrading the water rights management system, work that is now getting underway. More precise data on diversions and water rights obligations is already informing the board’s decisions around drought curtailments and supporting local irrigation districts in their water management as well.

“For the first time in history, the water board is actively administering water rights,” said Esquivel.

Meanwhile, drought conditions have expanded to the entire state, according to last week's U.S. Drought Monitor report. More than two-thirds of California is in severe drought, while 12% has reached the extreme category, the second highest on the scale.