707-769-2008   *  SONOMA COUNTY   *   CA   *  94951

Principles for a Sustainable Water Future in California


The California Water Impact Network
P.O. Box 5462, Santa Barbara, CA 93150

July 19, 2004

Contact:  Dorothy Green, 310-270-4151, dorgreen@adelphia.net


California’s water, both ground and surface, is a public resource subject to various private use rights. The public nature of the resource has been frequently ignored in public decision making. Major river systems have been dried up for private benefit causing tragedies for public trust resources such as fish. Water is held in the public trust for the access and enjoyment of all the people.

Major delivery systems have been built with public money around the state to deliver water from where it is deemed to be surplus to areas of exuberant growth. However, some critically important water delivery systems cannot deliver the amounts of water promised in part because of increasing concern over water quality, habitat and endangered species protection. Yet the population of the state continues to grow, putting more pressure on our limited water resource to serve this population. The solution promoted by the water industry is to pump more water which only exacerbates environmental and water quality problems while ignoring reasonable solutions based on greater efficiency of use.

There is growing evidence that we can meet the needs of the state, which include population growth, habitat and wildlife restoration, by using water much more efficiently than we do at present. To accomplish this goal, we propose these Principles for a Sustainable Water Future in California. These principles outline what is needed to achieve a comprehensive, holistic, integrated, and sustainable water policy for the State.

This is a work in process. All ideas regarding this proposal are welcome.

1. The Public Trust Doctrine. The public trust doctrine is insufficiently recognized in decisions on how best to allocate water to serve all of the public’s needs for access and enjoyment. Very high priority must be given to the public trust doctrine in future water allocation decisions.

2. Right to Water. Every person in California must be assured the minimum amount of high quality water necessary for life at an affordable price. Additional water consumed should cost more

3. Open Public Process. The public, as owners of California’s water resources, must have the determining role in the development and adoption of any statewide water policy. The process must be open, transparent and accountable, and include the active involvement of all sectors of California’s diverse population.

4. Water Management. The comprehensive water management of state and regional water supplies is best achieved through agency cooperation and coordination. To that end, we support restructuring water administration by eliminating or combining, to the extent feasible, agencies whose jurisdictions lie within the same watershed.

5. Area of Origin. The areas that are water rich, the areas of origin in northern California, must be protected so that these areas can grow and maintain their instream
flows as required by state law.

6. Ecosystem Restoration. Our rivers, streams and estuaries have become so degraded by water projects that restoration of instream flows and the ecosystems dependent on these flows must occur. Whenever the place of use or the purpose of use of diverted water changes, the public interest requires that some portion of the water in question be devoted to the restoration of degraded eco-systems. At least one third of all the water saved by conservation and reuse must be dedicated to fish and stream restorations, and to restoring overdrafted groundwater basins.

7. Local Supplies. Local water supplies, which usually are the most dependable, least costly, and most drought resistant resources available to a local community, must be carefully managed and protected for sustainable use by the community.

8. Conservation. Conservation is constitutionally mandated and often is the least environmentally damaging way of achieving efficiency in water use. The constitutional prohibition against waste must be fully implemented.

9. Reuse. Reuse of highly treated wastewater must be encouraged for a wide variety of uses including potable reuse. Wastewater is now cleaned to near potable standards, and then most of it is thrown away.

10. Watershed Management. Watershed management plans shall be developed to maximize coordination of all government agencies and the public to achieve multiple benefits, including but not limited to capturing stormwater where it falls, recharging the groundwater, improving water quality, and restoring wildlife habitat. The beneficiaries of exported water shall be required to invest in watershed restoration.

11. Groundwater Management. The groundwater and surface water within a basin or watershed are typically inextricably linked, physically connected, and must be managed using whole system management approaches. In order to protect instream flows and terrestrial habitat, controls on overdraft should be instituted immediately. Ultimately, means should be found to reduce or eliminate groundwater overdraft.

12. Water Quality. All water quality standards must be clear, publicized, and enforced. Enforcing water quality standards includes maintaining sufficient flows through rivers, streams and estuaries to ensure ecosystem health.

13. Sustainable Agriculture. Sustainable agricultural land must be preserved. As ag land goes out of production because of globalization, global warming and other factors, water should be returned to the environment.

14. Innovation. All water users should be encouraged to be more creative and to find ways to benefit themselves and the environment. Federal or other subsidies should be redirected to save minimally 10% of farm land for riparian habitat.

15. Good Science. Computer models used to project water supplies, both surface and groundwater must be publicly available, be predictable, accurate, transparent and accessible on the Internet. They must be subjected to peer review and truly reflect the resources of the state.

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