California's land-use policies and growth patterns have long caused a host of environmental ills, including the loss of important wildlife habitat, disruption of movement corridors, air and water pollution, and climate change. Most recently, unchecked speculative real estate development has helped cause a global economic meltdown, destroying millions of jobs and making thousands of people homeless. But even as foreclosure rates rise and inner-ring suburbs slide toward bankruptcy because of collapsing tax revenues, our wildlands-urban interface zones remain threatened by seemingly unchecked development pressures.

In fact, one of the only true checks on these pressures is our supply of fresh water.

The crisis of development threats to our wildlands-urban interface zones has deepened in recent years because powerful corporate interests have solidified their control over water in California. The current water-delivery regime favors speculative real estate and big agriculture at the expense of communities, rational farm policies, the public trust and the environment. State regulatory agencies and political bodies have failed thus far to address the crisis, because they're all closely tied to these corporate interests. Privateers have turned the state's limited conservation requirements on their head, insisting that using more water actually “conserves” it from future waste.

Water-supply policy and practice in California is therefore at a critical crossroads. The public is clamoring for solutions but is presented with conflicting messages, including the false assertion that we need to choose between farms and fish, or that we simply need more canals and more dams. Ensuring a future water supply that can meet the sustainable needs of urban, rural and environmental uses under full public control is one of California's biggest challenges in the 21st century.


The Center is working to break the grip that Big Agriculture and real estate interests have on California's water supply. Our primary tool is strategic impact litigation, as the state regulatory agencies and political bodies are currently too beholden to these powerful interests. We also work to organize local communities and educate the public about their freshwater resources, the state's aquatic ecosystems, and how all of us can and should protect this public trust. Ultimately we seek to transform the current water delivery regime in California to benefit local communities and smart urban planning — as well as to protect our precious natural ecosystems.

Photo of California aqueduct by David Sasaki/Flickr.