Oil wells guzzle precious California water. Next door, residents can’t use the tap


Publish Date:
January 22, 2023
The Guardian
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California does not restrict oil companies’ use of this fresh water, according to Buzz Thompson, faculty director at Stanford’s Water in the West program. An earlier draft of SB1281 required oil producers to only use recycled water during a drought, but it was removed amid objections from the oil industry.

According to Thompson, the state does have the power to act. California’s constitution states that fresh water can only be used for “reasonable and beneficial” applications.

Thompson added that under emergency powers, the governor could direct the board to examine whether the use of water by oil companies is “reasonable and beneficial”.

Asked why the governor wasn’t taking executive action to limit water use by oil companies, the governor’s office did not directly respond but said that the state does not have direct authority over oil companies’ water use. However, if an oil company has a water right, it must comply with state water board rules, the statement said. Thompson said that was correct, but the state did have the authority to review a municipality’s decision to sell surface water to an oil company.

Thompson said the solution to stark water inequity in the Central Valley was to hook up small communities to municipal systems.

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