California is in a Drought: Why I am Declining Dumping a Bucket of Water on Myself

I want to thank Scott Murray from Assembly of Geeks for nominating Jessica and I for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. However, I am declining the ice bucket challenge for one big reason: California is in a drought. I think it is a bad example when we are encouraging people to conserve water to dump a bucket of water over myself.

However, I will up the ante: I am going to Tahoe very soon. Lake Tahoe is colder than any ice bucket. I will take a swim.

[Provided there are not six foot seas and high winds]

The issue of water conservation is a good way to introduce the two views on water law: Riparian Rights (in the Eastern States) and Prior-Appropriation (in the Western States).

Riparian Rights are the rights of a landowner whose property is by a body of water to make reasonable use of the water. See, Black’s Law Dictionary App, 9th Edition.

The Prior-Appropriation Doctrine is slightly different, stating that the earliest users of those who boarder water have the right to “take all they can use before anyone else has a right to it.” See, Black’s Law Dictionary App, 9th Edition. As the United States Supreme Court explained:

Under that doctrine [prior-appropriation], one acquires a right to water by diverting it from its natural source and applying it to some beneficial use. Continued beneficial use of the water is required in order to maintain the right. In periods of shortage, priority among confirmed rights is determined according to the date of initial diversion.

Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 805 (U.S. 1976).

California has codified this rule of water use with a very blunt statute: As between appropriators, the one first in time is the first in right. Cal Civ Code § 1414.

Why did the Western states take the view of Prior-Appropriation over Riparian Rights? Because water is more scarce here.

And while we are in a drought I just do not feel right dumping a bucket of water over myself.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, the ABA Web 100 for Best Legal Blog and Podcast categories, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.