California needs water law reform

Time to update 19th century law to meet 21st century reality

California’s water law was developed in the 19th century. It has not been comprehensively reformed since, despite substantial population growth, changing social values, and the appointment 45 years ago of a blue-ribbon commission to recommend changes. Now the “new normal” of the anthropocene promises reduced water availability coincident with increased demand.

It is past time for comprehensive reconsideration of California’s water law system. Fellow Planeteer Rick Frank and I have been working with a diverse group of water law experts to come up with some initial recommendations for change. Today, we published an op-ed explaining some of those recommendations in CalMatters. The full report is here.

At least some of the recommendations are getting some traction in the legislature. But perhaps the best outcome of this exercise would be appointment of a new blue-ribbon commission that would start its work with some legislative and executive buy-in to the need for truly comprehensive reform to help our 19th century water law better deal with our 21st century reality.

Reader Comments

One Reply to “California needs water law reform”

  1. Dear Holly, I appreciate what you and professor Frank have recommended but I think it is far too little in a state and region where there are more water rights than water to fulfill them even before climate change reductions began hitting our western water supplies. Please consider more ambitious (and necessary) reform. For example, please support reducing all California water rights by 10% and then 2% per year until 25% reduction is reached.

    What do you think?

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About Holly

Holly Doremus is the James H. House and Hiram H. Hurd Professor of Environmental Regulation at UC Berkeley. Doremus brings a strong background in life sciences and a comm…

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