Southern California Water:
Who Does It Belong To?


"Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I've often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California, but girl don't they warn ya
It pours, man it pours"
(It Never Rains in California
Song lyrics by Albert Hammond)

Southern California is a land of water extremes - some years bring 15 inches of rain; others, 40 or more. There are few navigable waterways, and the rainy season is in the winter and the opposite of the growing season. Explorers noticed this immediately. The right to water, how it was brought to the people, and the responsibilities of water companies changed quickly over a period of only 150 years.

From National Weather Service Data
Hundley, The Great Thirst, p. 14

"'We had no water here except what ... [was] carried,' complained Fray Juan Crespi [in 1769 on a California expedition with Gaspar Portolá ], 'and the animals, though they had good pasture, went without drinking.'" (Hundley, The Great Thirst, p. 32)

The question of who the water belongs to has been an issue since indians settled in Southern California. Water Rights changed over the years as different needs were addressed.

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Gold seekers
DWR News Special Edition, p. 5
California History of Water Rights:
- Go to the source (Indians)
- Pueblo Rights (Distribute justly and fairly - Spanish)
- Appropriative Rights ( "First in time, first in water" - miners)
- Raparian rights (English Law)
- The California Doctrine - Combines Appropriative and Raparian Rights (Lux vs. Haggin - 1886)
- Mutual Prescription (Groundwater)

Pacific Gas and Electric
Hundley, The Great Thirst, p. 73

California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento
Hundley, The Great Thirst, p. 76

Mission San Fernando

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Past, Present, Future
Officials in the Los Angeles area realized before 1900 that new sources of water, besides the Los Angeles River, would be needed to supply residents over the next 50 years. Over the next 100 years, water would flow to Southern California from the Owens Valley by way of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, from the Colorado River Basin by way of the Colorado River Aqueduct, and from Northern California by way of the State Water Project. Ground water was pumped up during years of shortage. Water from the ocean from desalinization plants is expensive, but the next resource to be tapped.
Explosive growth of the Los Angeles basin:
1850 / 1,600
1860 / 4,300
1880 / 12,900
1890 / 50,000
1900 / 100,000
1910 / 500,000
2000 / 17,000,000

The Corner of San Vincente and Fairfax

UCLA Dept. of Geographic Air Photo Archives
Hundley, The Great Thirst, pp. 234, 235

Water wheel lifting water from the Los Angeles River
Security Pacific Historical Photograph Collection
Hundley,The Great Thirst, p. 125
Map of California Water Sources

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So What?
Southern California's never-ending quest for water has caused many problems:

- Numerous lawsuits
- Environmental destruction
- Loss of lives
- Bitter feelings toward Southern California
- Billions of public dollars spent

Depletion of ground water in the San Joaquin Valley has caused the ground to sink
U.S. Geological Survey
Hundley, The Great Thirst, p. 428

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Southern California's water responsibilities:
To share with those we take it from (Intrastate Compacts, Colorado River Compact, The Mexican Water Treaty),
To the environment (California and Federal Endangered Species Acts),
To provide clean water (Clean Water Act of 1972),
To public trust (open waterways and bays),
To ourselves (California Environmental Quality Act),
To plan for the future and conserve.

"Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over."
Attributed to Mark Twain but not verified