Viewed through the analytical lenses of Knowledge, Technology, Institutions, and Politics, the challenges facing managers of water resources in California and the United States can be seen to vary over time.  

In California at the time of the Gold Rush, for example, lack of knowledge, except for casual observation and personal experience, combined with primitive technology to make it difficult and expensive to manipulate the state's water resources.  There was only limited capacity in the state's early legislatures, after 1850, to set water policy.  And there were no bureaucratic institutions for implementation during the early history of the state.  Common law doctrines used by the miners and inherited from England were adapted by the courts to California conditions and circumstances, but it was a long time before the doctrine of prior appropriation began to co-exist with riparianism, and even longer before appropriative rights were widely accepted as the chief basis for water resource policy making.

Today in California both state and federal agencies play major roles in water resource decision making.  The California Department of Water Resources manages the State Water Project.  The United States Bureau of Reclamation manages the Central Valley Project.  Both agencies must now share their decision making with other agencies charged by policy makers with environmental protection and enhancement.  Complex, contemporary water resource issues also draw large numbers of interest groups into the decision making process and in the recent past have become the subjects of statewide ballot measures.

As the building of major works and facilities to conserve and transport water in California has slowed, resource managers have had to contend increasingly with questions about the efficiency and equity of established patterns of water use.  Under somewhat different statutory mandates, both the Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation must now devote major effort to rethinking and revising the terms and conditions under which water is allocated and used in the state.  Efficiency considerations cut in favor of more flexibility for water transfers.  Equity concerns compel even greater scrutiny of the impacts water projects have on fish and wildlife values and on the quality of in-stream flows, most especially in the Bay-Delta ecosystem.

The following pages explore important aspects of these policy challenges.


 November 29, 1999e-mail: tyoshida@ucdavis.edu |