WANT TO GET rich? Move to California, become a lawyer. Most important, specialize in water, because as the stateâ€™s drought drags on, every drop of coastal rain, every flake of Sierra snowpack, and every inch of reservoir water becomes both more valuable and more contested. Before long youâ€™ll start counting rain dropsâ€”every one that fails to fall will ring cha-ching.
The latest windfall to Californiaâ€™s legal community came Friday, when the State Water Resources Control Board announced it was cutting certain historical water rightsâ€”held by some farmers, communities, and companies for more than a century. In a normal state with a normal drought, this wouldnâ€™t be too much of an issue. But California water policies are so old (and so unsuited to the stateâ€™s desert ecosystem) that they might be outside the jurisdiction of the present-day water board. With barely a weekend for curtailment news to simmer, the summer air is already thick with lawsuit rumors.
â€œCalifornia has the most complex system of water rights in the world,â€ says Buzz Thompson, a legal expert in said system at Stanford University. The stateâ€™s problems trace back to its earliest days. In order to take the stress out of drafting up a constitution from scratch, Californiaâ€™s founders adopted English Common Law, and customized it with caveats to fit their needs. Unfortunately, they didnâ€™t bother amending the Common Law rules on water allocations.