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Open Access Publications from the University of California

California Water and the Rhetoric of Crisis


Water management in California has always been politically charged and fraught with controversy. In the summer of 2009, the last year of a three-year drought, a specific type of “water crisis” emerged in political rhetoric, in which constructing new dams and lifting protections for endangered fish species could solve California’s water problems. This piece critically examines these claims by presenting a brief background on how water is used and managed in California, highlighting the disconnect between the cost to deliver water and the price users pay, and explaining misconceptions that led endangered species protections to be attacked. California needs to take a proactive stance in water management by examining how water is currently allocated, reforming our water rights system, and dealing with difficult water issues before they reach a “crisis” level.

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