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Water for Wildlife Depends on Legal Opportunities

Western drought desiccates crops and threatens aquatic life. Some say water allocations favor fish over farmers - yet many prefer to share, rather than spar about, water rights. A new report from Water in the West shows states’ laws can help. “Barriers to water markets in the West have come to the forefront of public discussion due to the extent of drought in western states,” said Water in the West Executive Director Leon Szeptycki.  “Our work focused specifically on one aspect of this problem – legal barriers to voluntary transfers of water rights for environmental purposes.  Our goal was to survey state laws and see if we could identify existing tools that were already working well.” More ...

Assessing CA Groundwater Management One Year After Landmark Legislation

One year ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 into law. Commonly referred to as SGMA, the legislation created a statewide framework for sustainable groundwater management – and, potentially, regulation of groundwater pumping – for the first time in California’s history. Severe drought and reliance on pumping underground aquifers have left groundwater supplies in worse shape than when the law was passed, the authors write, adding that limits on pumping and new wells are likely needed to meet the law's objectives. More ...

Can Environmental Law Save Us From Disasters?

Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires are often thought of as “Acts of God.” However, the disaster management community increasingly recognizes that few disasters are purely “natural” in origin. For instance, land-use decisions that allow people to build (and rebuild) homes in floodplains contribute to flood damage; and greenhouse gas emissions contribute to extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change. In light of this, can the area of disaster management learn from the field of environmental law, which has a long history of designing tools to help prevent and mitigate harms from man-made disasters such as toxic contamination and pollution?  Experts and disaster risk practitioners from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Africa considered the question at a Stanford Law School workshop earlier this year. More

In The News


Less water might be plenty for California, experts say, and conservation is only the start

Los Angeles Times | Sept. 6, 2015

Demand grows for California water although the amount has been limited by rising temperatures and lack of precipitation. Managers and policy makers must choose the next steps toward the state's water future. Conservation and the construction of infrastructure such as dams are under consideration. "The reality is that there are so many soft paths that we can take that might have a lot less environmental impact and be a lot less expensive, and still meet our future demand," says Newsha Ajami, director of urban water policy at Water in the West.

Full Story …


5 Fixes for California’s age-old water-rights system


San Francisco Chronicle | Sept. 13, 2015

"If you’re out shopping for water, it’s not like you can go to the commodity exchange in Chicago and simply buy water,” says Leon Szeptycki, executive director of  Water in the West. “Barriers need to be removed.” Nevertheless, he warns that regulation must ensure water for impoverished communities . At the same time, government needs to protect the environment, ensuring that water sellers don't deplete surface water and thereby harm wildlife. 

Full Story…



A Wet Winter Won't Save California 

New York Times | Sept. 18, 2015
As wildfires rage, crops are abandoned, wells run dry and cities work to meet mandatory water cuts, drought-weary Californians are counting on a savior in the tropical ocean: El Niño. Stanford professors Chris Field and Noah Diffenbaugh explain why the solution isn't so simple. 

Full Story …

Stanford Researchers Look to Stormwater as a Solution for Semiarid Regions 

Stanford Report | September 16, 2015
Stanford researchers and government agencies in drought-stricken California cities work to capture and use stormwater. The effort could ameliorate water shortages. In addition, stormwater capture may also contain pollution before it contaminates beaches and leads to algal blooms that can poison fish. "These are billion-dollar problems," says Richard Luthy of Water in the West. "Meeting water needs in the future is going to depend a lot on how we reuse water and what we do with stormwater."

Full Story …

What We Are Reading

California Groundwater Law Tests State’s Capacity to Oversee A Vital Resource
One year after of California’s groundwater law was enacted, local groundwater agencies struggle to form, find funding, and meet deadlines. Critics say they work too slowly. “To watch the process unfold is to witness the foundations of democracy,” writes Brett Walton of on September 16. 

Water Management's High-Tech Future
California’s drought drives technological advances in water management. "The drought has also raised public awareness regarding water scarcity, which plays a vital role in changing consumer behavior," said Newsha Ajami, director of urban water policy at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, in an interview by the Public Policy Institute of California published September 3. 

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