Water & Justice
Illustration of a gold mining claim in the Sierra Nevada.
Society grants property owners rights to use water, not to possess or hoard it. That’s because water is both a basic necessity of life and essential to all economic activity. Legal water use also entails specific obligations. Water rights holders must not adversely affect the rights of other legal water users or harm the environment.
This is not a river: California Aqueduct near Byron.
"Paper water" is the idea that government has promised more in rights to water than there is water that flows in Nature's rivers and streams in California. There is far more water "on paper" than there is in California's water ways.
The fact that this discrepancy has languished for decades is a sign of magical thinking on the part of water industry officials and regulators in California.
In November 1928, California voters approved Proposition 7, amending the California constitution to prohibit the waste, unreasonable use, and unreasonable diversion of water. Voters approved the measure by a 3-to-1 margin; it won in every county.
The success of the proposition is easily explained: Water was very much on the minds of California residents at the time. The state had been affected by severe drought throughout much of the 1920s, and two recent state Supreme Court decisions (Antioch and Herminghaus) had a profound bearing on water rights and water disposition.*
California's state capitol
C-WIN exists to enforce existing water and environmental laws California already has on the books. If the laws we have were enforced properly, we believe many problems vexing the Delta and other places in California could be solved—and the sooner we get on it the better!
“By the law of nature these things are common to mankind – the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea.” —Emperor Justinian, 530 AD
Friant Dam looms along the San Joaquin River northeast of Fresno.
Once the public is notified of a water right petition, the California Water Code provides the public and interested water right holders an opportunity to protest granting of an application for a water right.
Learn about C-WIN's Water Rights Action Program.
The Los Angeles Aqueduct bringing Owens River water to Los Angeles from 250 miles away.
California's area of origin statutes were forged in the conflict between residents of Owens Valley and the City of Los Angeles in the early 20th century. This struggle climaxed in 1927 when deeply frustrated Owens Valley advocates seized the Alabama Hills diversion gates for the Los Angeles Aqueduct and later detonated a bomb that severed an aqueduct pipeline.
This episode eclipsed even Mark Twain's apocryphal quote about fighting, drinking, water, and whiskey. This was water policy hardball, the likes of which weren’t seen before and haven’t been seen since.
Shasta Reservoir, a key source of water for water transfers south of the Delta
Water transfers are often characterized as a "flexible" way of ensuring that water agencies get the supplies they want, especially during periods of drought. Water transfers are premised on a "water market," in which money is exchanged for access to water supplies.
But water transfers are not so transparent and benign as they may seem. They undercut the state's water rights system and increase the pressure on California's rivers and aquifers. Transfers help ensure that water "flows uphill to money" by allowing people with large amounts of capital to influence water allocation decisions, especially during dry years.