Environmental Law

Envt'l Law News Fall 2014, Vol. 23, No. 2

Swing, Pendulum, Swing: California’s Historic Drought and Unprecedented Responses

By Paeter E. Garcia* and Sarah Christopher Foley**


Most know by now that California is facing one of its driest years in recorded history. Yet droughts are not new to California, and to put things in context we can be thankful that current drought conditions are only as bad as they are. The "dustbowl drought" ofthe 1920s and 1930s nearly crippled the state. And even that could have been worse: tree-ring data show that centuries ago California and other western states were gripped by mega-droughts spanning 20 to 50 years.

Water is said to be our most critical natural resource (try going without it for a couple days). Ironically, however, it is something most Californians have taken for granted. But that dynamic is now beginning to change. Water education is catching up and catching on, and the conundrum we face with increasing demand and shrinking supply is practically impossible to ignore. Recent projections show the statewide population growing by almost 10 million over the next 20 years, to a total of 45 million. But the supply curve is going the other way. Over the last 10 years, various legal and regulatory decisions have substantially decreased the amount of water available from the State’s largest water supply projects, the State Water Project (SWP), the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), and the Colorado River.

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