California’s water is a public resource; its use, however, is subject to private rights to its use. The State is required by law to protect the public trust in California’s water for the access and enjoyment of all. Unfortunately, this clear legal obligation is frequently ignored in policy making. Major river systems such as the San Joaquin River have been degraded for private benefit, destroying public trust resources.

Massive publicly funded projects have been built in regions relatively abundant in water for deliveries to areas where water is scarce, fueling uncontrolled and ultimately unsustainable growth. However, some ambitious and extremely expensive projects cannot deliver water as promised because of increasing concern over water quality and habitat and endangered species protection. Yet California continues to grow, putting ever-increasing pressure on our limited water supplies. The solution promoted by the water-exploitation industry is to pump more groundwater and build more reservoirs and canals, but these strategies only exacerbate our economic, environmental and water quality problems. As the current drought confirms, water remains a limited resource in California. Nothing we can do will significantly increase the amount of snowpack that constitutes our main source of developed water. We cannot build our way out of this crisis; but reasonable water management based on greater efficiency of use is a solution.

We can meet our needs – for our economy, for urban ratepayers, for environmentally sound farming, for fisheries and wildlife — by using water much more efficiently than we do at present. To meet this goal, the California Water Impact Network proposes a set of Principles for a Sustainable Water Future in California. These principles outline a comprehensive, integrated, and sustainable water policy for the State.