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The ongoing drought in California has caused authorities to call on residents and businesses to conserve water. However, due to outdated legislation that grants some of them senior rights, about 4,000 businesses and farms in the state are free to use as much water as they want and not be held accountable for doing so, according to the Associated Press.
There is no official record of the amount of water those businesses use on an annual basis, but a review of their own records by the Associated Press reveals that it amounts to trillions of gallons of water. Between them, the select 3,897 entities that are granted superior rights own more than 50 percent of the rights to Californian rivers and streams.
Even though it is possible that many of them actually use far less water than records suggest, lack of complete data makes it impossible to find out. Self-reporting requirements are not strict enough, meaning that records are full of errors and are submitted years later. The latest records submitted to the state's water board are from 2010.
According to the water board's executive director Tom Howard, California needs to collect data on water use in a more efficient method but he rejected the idea that the practice of giving special rights to certain companies should be terminated, explaining that doing that could jeopardize safe water supplies to cities and industries.