Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal


The rise of the environmental movement and the growing public embrace of ecological values roughly coincided with the end of the dambuilding era. By the 1970s, most of the good sites for dams had already been taken, and those that remained, such as California’s North Coast rivers, were increasingly valued as natural and recreational resources that should be permanently protected. At the same time, California’s population continued to swell, from under 20 million in 1970 to nearly 38 million today. How did these trends affect water supply development in California? Among other impacts, the average time a major water supply project took from conception to construction more than doubled. Before the enactment of the major environmental statutes of the 1970s, project planning was far simpler, because the adverse impacts could largely be overlooked. With the advent of environmental impact reports and public involvement, planning water projects became much more complex and time-consuming. Moreover, the projects that succeeded in getting built added progressively smaller increments of storage to the state’s supply, with the hurdles of increasing complexity and expense. As water supply development began to slow down, the prospects for serious rationing became more real.