Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Legal Water

The finalization of the Draft California Water Plan in February is triggering discussion in political, legal and construction circles. A major confluence in public policy will occur when the legal water conservation issues run up against the development pressures created by the State's greenhouse gas legislation - SB 375 and AB 32. The GHG legislation is being used to create more housing development. The water allocations, which have been cut back by last years' judicial ruling, have slowed the development processes across the state due to the lack of available water. And this is before the legislation takes effect.

This pending conflict has generated a debate about who controls water in the state, since the drought is now more or less permanent, and the growth has not recognized the water limitations in the past. If the water law governance is changed in the face of California's water scarcity, it will affect contracts in existence since the Mexican Land Grant. It would be momentous, and would have to recognize the impact of water removal from the environment, which is what triggered the legal decision to restrict water delivery to Southern California. There's a brief history of how water allocations have affected local developments here. With a new package of water bills headed for this November's ballot, the debate over water control is destined to be one of the most intense the state has ever seen.

It could come to serious loggerheads with respect to how development can even happen in this state. At the very least, it will force some infrastructure changes as well as creating expensive project requirements in the form of net-zero requirements or even "energy plus" mandates for large projects. This would also limit projects to existing developed areas, which is an idea whose time has come.

The expansion era is over. And in many communities the specter of dense development is not welcome.