California Water Resources

University of San Diego

Professor Brian E. Gray

Spring Semester 2015

Mondays: 8:30-11:55

Room: Warren Hall 2A

Warren Hall 3D (Friday, Janauary 16th only)

Office Hours: After Class or By Telephone or Skype

Telephone: (415) 565-4719


California Water Resources

Welcome to California Water Resources.  We will meet for seven class sessions from January 12th through February 23rd (including a special Friday session on January 16th).  

Course Description

This class provides an overview of the basic doctrines of United States water rights law, as well as a detailed study of California water resources management.  We will study riparian rights, the prior appropriation system, groundwater rights, prescription, instream water rights, area-of-origin protections, and the important limitations on water rights embodied in the doctrines reasonable and beneficial use and the public trust.  We also will consider the application of the modern environmental laws on water rights and water use.  These laws include the Clean Water Act, the California Porter-Cologne Act, the federal and state Endangered Species Acts, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, and section 5937 of the California Fish and Game Code.  

We will analyze these legal topics by focusing on many of the great water development projects of the 19th and 20th Centuries: the gold rush and the spread of irrigated agriculture in the Central Valley; Los Angeles’ dewatering of the Owens Valley and Mono Basin; San Francisco’s damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley; the United States’ exploitation of the waters of the Colorado River; and construction of the federal Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project.  In turn, we will study the series of actions to restore the natural resources that have been degraded by these projects, which began in the late-20th Century and have continued into the 21st Century.  These actions include the famous Mono Lake litigation, the ill-fated CALFED Bay-Delta Program, the San Joaquin River restoration settlement, the Delta Vision process and the enactment of the 2009 Delta Protection Act, the on-going Bay-Delta Conservation Plan negotiations, the State Water Resources Control Board's regulatory process to set water quality and stream flow standards for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River and Delta Ecosystem, and the continuing efforts to resolve the endangered species-water supply conflict over the Klamath River.  We also will consider the severe drought that is afflicting California and the other western states, as well as the likely effects of global warming and climate change on California’s future water supplies and water resources planning.


We will consider these topics in the following blocks:

Monday, January 12th:  This will be a special class session dedicated to California’s drought.  The class will begin at 9:00, and you will view a live broadcast from Sacramento of the Public Policy Institute of California’s conference on “Managing Drought.”  I am one of the speakers, so I will be joining you online, rather than in person.  More information about the PPIC conference may be found here.

Friday, January 16th: Introduction and Overview of the Development of California’s Water Resources Systems.  Please note that this class will be held in Room 3D of Warren Hall.

Monday, January 19th: Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

Monday, January 26th: The Basic Water Rights Systems: Riparian Rights, Prior Appropriation, Prescription, and the Doctrine of Reasonable and Beneficial Use.

Monday, February 2nd:  Water Rights and the Environment: The Public Trust, Statutory Protection of Instream Uses, and the Influence of the Federal Environmental Laws.

Monday, February 9th: Groundwater Rights: The Common Rules, Mutual Prescription, Adjudicated Groundwater Basins, the 2014 Groundwater Legislation, and Integrated Surface and Groundwater Management.

Monday, February 16th: Water Transfers: Common Law and Statutory Rules and A Case Study of the Imperial Irrigation District/Metropolitan Water District/San Diego County Water Authority Long-Term Transfers of Conserved Water.

Monday, February 23rd: California’s Water Future: The Challenges of the Delta Ecosystem, Population Growth and Water Supply Reliability, Managing Drought, Promoting Efficient Use and Efficient Allocation, Adapting to Climate Change, and the Quest for Sustainability. 

Other Information

On these web pages, you will find class assignments, updates, and links to other resources.  The classes will be a combination of lectures and discussion.  I rely heavily on your participation.  In addition, there will be a 30-hour take home exam.