Sample Geology Essays on California Water Dilemma

California Water Dilemma


The state of California has been experiencing water problems for a long time. This has been caused by natural and man-made factors. The legal structure of the water management bodies is wanting, and the climate has also contributed to inadequate supply of water from the natural resources in the state. Address the legal and natural factors that influence the distribution of water in the state will go a long way in providing a solution to the water dilemma that the state has experienced in recent years.

Legal Problem

            Californian laws on water rights are more than a century old, and have are no longer applicable in the modern California. These regulations on water rights were put in place at a time when the population of this state was a little over 3 million, a figure a figure that ensure that there was more than enough water to go around (Littleworth & Garner, 1995). As at the present, there population of California is almost 40 million people and water supplies are diminishing gradually. This has been accelerated by long periods of drought experienced in most parts of the state in the recent years.

The water rights system in California was established at a time when the population was small and the water supplies very stable. Agriculture was main consumer of water at the time in form of irrigation, and the case has remained the same up to date. The law created then has relied on a “first in time, first in right” system (Littleworth & Garner, 1995). This means that the individuals and entities that secured their water rights first obtained priority over the ones that came to claim right later on. The earlier claimants are referred to as senior claimants and the ones that did much later on are called junior claimants.

This system used to work just fine when there were fewer people in the state and less demand for water. The population has grown significantly and the water supplies are shrinking due to the effects of climate change. This system is no longer working and has proven not responsive to the conditions of the 21st century. The biggest problem with this water rights system is the fact that it does not have a fair ground and creates winners and losers among the water users that may be similarly situated. This condition is solely based on the time that they obtained their water permits from the state regulators.

Inequality caused by this water rights system makes it hard for the regulator to allocated shortages of water fairly among the users. It is a system that discourages the conservation of water, as there is a likelihood of litigations arising from the farmers against the regulator. The water market in the state is not a free one, as would be envisaged elsewhere (Littleworth & Garner, 1995). There is no transference of water from lower to higher priority uses. Further, the system does not advance water rights for environmental conservation. The legislature in California practices a hands-off approach in the regulation and management of water resources, and this is one of the reasons why the regulations regarding the usage of water in the county has remained the same for over a century.

In 2014 and 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board directed thousands of junior rights holders in the central valley to sourcing their waters from the streams and rivers (Boxall, 2015). This directive came as a result of drought hitting many parts of the state leading to lowered supply of water in these sources. Continued drought forced the board to make the same directive to senior water rights holders whose rights dated back to early 1900s and even mid-1800s. the irrigation districts that were affected responded by suing the state, especially the ones that obtained water rights before 1914. The argument forwarded by these districts was that the administration of water rights commenced in 1914, and the state has no jurisdiction over rights that were given before that year. This leaves the senior water rights holders with no one to regulate their usage of the water resources, despite the changing conditions in terms of climate and demand for water in the state.

Climatic Causes of Water Shortage in California

            California has experienced continued a prolonged drought for the past few years. This has had a negative impact on the water supplies, and this is because a significant portion of the water resources are reliant on rain for water. Scientists have unearthed clues that suggest the extreme weather is caused by the climate change that is driven by human activities on the globe.  Climate change can be blamed for the increased severity of drought conditions in the state over the past few years (MacDonald, 2015). Climate change has resulted in warmer temperatures, which have caused higher rates of evaporation of water and consequently less humidity in the region. The raised temperatures have eliminated the low-lying snow packs contributing the attrition of this source of fresh water for irrigation and other domestic use.

As at 2014, the drought that was getting experienced in the state was claimed to be the worst ever to be experienced in the past 1200 years. The linkage of California drought to changes in the climate patterns is via the mechanism of rising temperatures and the changing atmospheric patterns (MacDonald, 2015). These are events that have continued to take place and have denied the region the rain it requires to replenish water sources. The temperatures that have been experienced in this region have been recording breaking, with each being higher than the previous one. The higher temperatures have contributed to the evaporation of important snow packs and drying out of the soils.

There has been an unexpected high-pressure weather pattern that is called the “resilient ridge.” This high-pressure weather pattern is responsible for blocking of storms from the pacific. This has led to the diminished precipitation in the region. The emerging high-pressure pattern, which has not been characteristic of the region in the past, is indicative of global warming having its print on California (Vicuna et al., 2007). The higher temperatures have resulted in warmer winters and subsequently lesser fall of snow. About a third of the water in California is derived from the snow packs. The mountain snows are melting earlier as the snow turns into vapor that is not translated into rain. As a result, the soils dry out faster causing the drought to have extreme effects on the environment.

The droughts of the past in the region were fundamentally driven by lack of precipitation, but in the present, they are caused by the higher temperatures that are resultant of climate change. There is a probability of the drought that has been experienced in this state being as a result of concurrent heat waves and failure of precipitation making the event become an extreme one compared to earlier estimations (Vicuna et al., 2007). The driving force behind this is climate change and global warming. The pressure zone that has formed on the Pacific Ocean diverted the precipitation towards Alaska where the increased temperatures have resulted avalanches triggered by precipitation. There is a tendency for wet regions getting wetter while the dry regions get drier as a result of climate change. The south-western part of the united states, where California is located, is a dry region (Vicuna et al., 2007). The Colorado river, which provides much of the water used in southern California, has receded its levels as a result of the drought. The Rocky Mountains do not have enough water to supply southern California and sierra Nevada is also not adequate for the northern part of the state.

The hotter temperatures are drying out crops and the precipitation levels are awfully low. This has resulted in the farmers and other residents in the state increasing the ground water withdrawals. The increased demand for groundwater in this state is causing a rapid rate of depletion. If this trend continues, it is likely to threaten the groundwater of many western states for decades to come (MacDonald, 2015). Unlike surface water, groundwater takes a long time to recharge. The rate of depletion for ground water is at six times that of the surface water when the drought is at its peak in this region. This has many negative repercussions for the homes, farmers and businesses that are depending on ground water for survival. The depletion of groundwater has also resulted in the subsidence of land. There are some areas in the state where there is a record of one foots subsidence of land per year.

Resolving the Water Crisis in California

In order to resolve the water dilemma in California, there is a need to change the legal understanding of the water resources and overhauling the water rights system, which is skewed in favor to the senior water rights owners. The residents and companies in California need to understand that water is a public resource (Schiller & Fowler, 1999). Most of the significant Californian water users such as farmers view water as their private property like a house or a bank account. This should not be the case, as the laws in California recognize all water within the state as property of the people. Although private entities can obtain a right to use that resource, this principle of water as a public resource should use to guide the permitting system for the water resources.

The state authorities should improve on the monitoring and reporting of water diversions by water users. The largest water users in the state are not required to disclose the amount of water extracted or diverted by them. The individuals that are supposed to report them refuse to do that most of the time. This is an irrational approach, as the amount of water extracted or diverted from the water basin is rarely measured (Schiller & Fowler, 1999). The monitoring of the used of water and diversions should be improved to make easier to note misuse of water and take the necessary actions. Water transfers should be made easier and quicker especially during the drought spells in order to ensure that high priority processes are catered for before the rest. The present water rights system does not encourage water transfer.

In the allocation of water, the environment needs to be given a consideration in order to ensure that the water is used for conservation of the environment. Most of the environmental activists in the state often find themselves in a fix, as there is no allocation of water the environment in the region.


Boxall, B. (2015). Lawsuits over California water rights are a fight a century in the making. Retrieved 15 August 2017, from

Littleworth, A. L., & Garner, E. L. (1995). California Water.

MacDonald, G. (2015). Beyond the Perfect Drought: California’s Real Water Crisis. Yale E360. Retrieved 15 August 2017, from

Schiller, E., & Fowler, E. (1999). Ending California’s Water Crisis: A Market Solution to the Politics of Water. Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy.

Vicuna, S., Maurer, E. P., Joyce, B., Dracup, J. A., & Purkey, D. (2007). The sensitivity of California water resources to climate change scenarios. JAWRAJournal of the American Water Resources Association, 43(2), 482-498.