SACRAMENTO (CN) - The "first-ever" California Water Rights Atlas has been posted online, making thousands of water rights claims available to the public.
The Resource Renewal Institute announced the new website on Friday.
"Water is the most important issue facing California," former California Resources Secretary Huey Johnson said at a conference celebrating the new atlas. "The future hinges on how well we handle it."
Johnson founded the Resource Renewal Institute in 1985 to "facilitate the creation, development, and implementation of practical strategies to solve environmental problems in a comprehensive framework," according to the institute's website.
The institute called the website a "gift of information." It said the 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."
Johnson said at the conference that he decided to create the atlas after years of frustration with the information available about water rights. "You almost had to be a priest of the process to access it and understand it," he said.
Under the California Constitution's Public Trust Doctrine, the public has a right to information about water rights.
But Johnson said special-interest groups have "manipulated policy and politics" to generate "purposeful confusion and chaos" and obstruct the public's ability to find and understand the data.
"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," Johnson said in a statement.
"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."
Johnson said that water-rights holders in the state claim to divert 250 million acre-feet of water a year, though California receives around 71 million acre-feet of usable water from annual precipitation.
By providing "real-time and open information," the atlas can help citizens, nonprofit groups, policy makers, and the media participate meaningfully in water resource management, Johnson said.
"The new Atlas puts every citizen on equal footing with the most powerful special interests," he added.
The Governor's Office published a California Water Atlas in 1979, "a book dedicated to providing citizens with a strong starting point to tackle looming water scarcity and give clarity to a complex system," according to the statement.
The online Atlas will make the information transparent and available to the public, the institute said.
Users can see thousands of water rights claims by typing key phrases into the search bar, or perform specific searches with filters for county, body of water, watershed, status of the claim, or owner of the claim.
The claims appear on an interactive map as dots color-coded based on how the water is used, such as for irrigation, agriculture, or municipal purposes. The dots vary in size according to how many acre-feet per year each the claim's owner can divert.
Hovering the mouse over a dot causes a window to pop up, revealing who owns the claim, how many acre-feet per year the owner can divert, and sometimes the year the claim application was received.
The atlas includes "real-time information on water conveyance, remote in-stream sensor data, and water diversion reports," the institute's lead engineer said in a statement.