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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Peter Storm

Present and Future Water Policy in California

Water is often overlooked for its importance in its role in everyday life. While present
nearly everywhere, it is not until water is absent that people notice its existence. Only in
times of drought is it that this forgotten molecule is rea lized to be the one thing often
forgotten as crucial. For without water, a farmer's crop is merely dust, a lake is but a
depression in the landscape. Yet having water is not enough. If one only needed water,
the oceans would more than suffice. However, having water and just water without
significant impurities is what makes just any water valuable water. So it is realized that
clean water is a valuable resource bestowed upon those lucky enough to be born in the
right place and at the right time. Millions of humans are without access to a clean and
reliable water source in this day and age; but because this natural resource is readily
available to those with such luck should not mean it can be wasted. As such, man has
discovered and continues to utilize water for a range of tasks, from growing food to
cooling nuclear power plants; however, an attitude of complacency towards water's
ready availability and a lack of concern about its future presence needs to be replaced by
a growing concern for conservation and long range planning. It is at these points of
drought that the State of California has realized time and time again that she must
protect her natural resources while ensuring her citizens get their fair share.


The history of water issues in California originates from those individuals who rushed to
claim land hoping to strike it rich on gold back in the Gold Rush days of 1848-1855. As
water was diverted from a stream to help find gold, less water remained downstream for
the next user. Those who were first in line were first in right to access the water, but such
access did not mean that those at the top should abuse their privilege and waste water.
However, such abuse did and does still occur as some individuals continue to fa il to value
the water to which they have access because their demand for water does not exceed
their supply. It is here that it becomes obvious that the right to access water or a lack
there of creates systematic inequality. To correct this, the State of California decided it
was worth investing to move water to allow for greater access. As was said by Governor
Jon Love, "In the west, water flows uphill toward money." And indeed did this occur as
the State of California and the Bureau of Land Management built aqueducts to carry
water from the far reaches of California to the cities and valleys, so that plenty of water
would be available. But it is only in the past century that there has been a realization that
there is a limit to the water available, rendering the previous plan of just pumping more
water inadequate. Plans to overcome this obstacle take root but never fully succeed as
the public is rarely willing to act in favor of the common good to conserve the natural
resource of water. And such is the Tragedy of the Commons in California. That is, except
when effective policymaking shifts the public's perception and encourages change, be it
through incentive or punishment. Nonetheless, the State of California is facing dire times
with a growing population and a dwindling water supply.