Climate crisis and systemic inequities drive push to reform California water laws

By Ian James, Staff Writer 
Feb. 13, 2022

Crescent City, California, United States Published on February 25, 2016 Apple, iPhone 6s Free to use under the Unsplash License
Photo by Steve Carter on Unsplash

California’s mountain snowpack is shrinking, and climate change is intensifying the severe drought. Streams have dwindled and reservoirs have declined as vast quantities of water are diverted for farms and cities. Endangered fish are struggling to survive. And in farming areas in the Central Valley, hundreds of families are struggling with dry wells as groundwater levels continue to drop.

A group of prominent legal experts has presented a blueprint for updating California’s system of water laws to fix long-standing weaknesses and adapt to the worsening effects of climate change. They say their proposals, if adopted by the Legislature, would help the state better manage surface water and groundwater, protect vulnerable communities and ecosystems, and improve state oversight of the water rights system.

The group presented their 11 proposals this month, saying the reforms would represent a major revision of laws that govern diversions from streams and rivers, and would give state officials better tools to deal with mounting strains on the state water system.

“California’s water laws, they were adopted a long time ago … in a California that was a very different place,” said Holly Doremus, a UC Berkeley law professor who was part of the group.“It’s past time to take a broad look,” Doremus said. “Climate change makes the situation that much more acute