Introducing Time-Limited Permits to California’s Riparianism

Emily Derrick - UC Davis School of Law
Vol. 56
February 2023
Page 1391

As the snowballing effects of climate change continue in increasingly unpredictable ways, tensions over water use will become more common. The current system of water rights — and our system of property law more generally — was not built to accommodate major external changes in the environment, while also maintaining fairness and addressing efficiency concerns. California’s appropriative rights system favors the earliest users and makes transfers difficult, and its continued embrace of riparian rights makes total water use less predictable. In California, this approach tends to favor large agricultural users, who have little to no incentive to reduce their use. And the “first in time, first in right” approach tends toward supporting inefficient uses of water over the long term and makes it difficult for new users to get rights, even if those new uses are more efficient and far more valuable.

This Note explores ways in which California’s current system of water rights can be reimagined for the current era. It argues that an effective way to respond to water shortages is to implement a system of time-limited water use permits with options for limited renewal.

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