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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Negotiating contentious claims to water : shifting institutional dynamics for the allocation of water between the Eel and Russian river basins


In California, the control of water has shaped the destiny of the land and its inhabitants. Today, when Californians require that water satisfy an increasing array of diverse values, it is essential to understand how control over water is achieved and maintained, how strategies to manage water become defined, and how these strategies influence water allocations.

Despite often held assumptions of local rights to water, a central theme in California since the adoption of the doctrine of prior appropriation has been the diversion of water from its originating watershed to an out-of-origin area. In a state where control over water represents security, power and wealth, inter-basin diversions are highly contested, and there are continuous debates over water rights and the consequences and valuation of different allocation regimes. Exemplifying these ongoing conflicts over water, the Potter Valley Hydropower Project (PVP), diverting Eel River water into the Russian River since 1908, serves as a pivotal point of contention where two associated regions with multiple interests battle over claims to Eel River water.

This research utilized an in-depth study of negotiations over the Eel – Russian River inter-basin water diversion to explain why particular groups achieve, maintain and lose control over a region’s water, and how shifting power relations affect water allocation decisions.

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