PDF _ RL34554 - California Water Law and Related Legal Authority Affecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
1-Jul-2008; Cynthia Brougher; 14 p.

Abstract: The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (the Delta) is formed by the confluence of the north-flowing San Joaquin River, the south-flowing Sacramento River, and the San Francisco Bay, to which the delta of the two rivers is linked. The 1,153-square-mile estuary is the hub of California’s extensive water supply system. The Delta provides water to more than 25 million people and habitat for various species, including the threatened delta smelt and endangered chinook salmon. As such, the Delta has endured decades of competing water demands. During this time, the Delta ecosystem has experienced environmental degradation, increasing regional water demands, and a decrease in reliable water supplies for urban, agricultural, and natural areas.

The numerous stakeholders associated with the Delta include agricultural, urban, industrial, environmental, and recreational interests. In order to provide water to the various users, two major water projects were created: the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. Concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of the regulation of these projects and the Delta waters generally both to meet the needs of water users and to avoid environmental impacts to water quality and species. Specifically, in late 2007, a federal judge ordered a reduction in the amount of water pumped out of the Delta to preserve the habitat of endangered fish in the Delta, meaning less water for areas that depend on the water projects for their water supply. In June 2008, Governor Schwarznegger declared a state of drought for the entire state of California. These events pose significant impacts on California’s water supply. As a matter of oversight of the impacts of water flow and water management in the Delta, the House Natural Resources Committee held a subcommittee hearing on the effect conditions in the Delta have on the endangered species there.

This report provides a summary of California’s dual system of water rights, which includes riparian and prior appropriation doctrines, and regulation of those rights by the state. In particular, the report discusses considerations used in the process of regulating water usage, including the public trust doctrine, the rule of beneficial use, and the no injury rule. The report discusses the California water projects, the projects’ rights, and access to water by other users. Significant court decisions and relevant statutes that affect the Delta are explained as well.

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Topics: Water, Government

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