Environmental Law Program

McGeorge’s Online Water and Environmental Law Program Helps Fight for a Human Right to Water in California

Environmental Law Program

In California, over one million people do not have access to safe, affordable, and reliable drinking water. Many small water systems and domestic wells are unable to meet safety standards under federal and state drinking water laws, and this problem disproportionately affects Latino, rural, and low-income communities. Two-thirds of the communities that suffer from drinking water insecurity or entire lack of drinking water are disadvantaged communities that have an annual median household income less than 80% of the statewide annual median. In many of these communities, the taps run dry, and where water runs, the water is toxic. Additionally, some California residents spend more than five times the affordable rate for water. 

Students in McGeorge’s online Water & Environmental Law program learn about the multiple causes of California’s failure to ensure safe and reliable water many of which are linked to histories of overt or systemic racism: discriminatory housing policies, land use exclusion, settlements proximate to the only available jobs. As a result of these factors, communities around California that are served by small water systems and domestic wells lack funding, infrastructure, and governance to meet clean water standards. An additional driver of drinking water failure stems from agricultural runoff and large-scale pumping proximate to shallow domestic wells, resulting in water quality and supply problems in groundwater basins.   

Legal Frameworks to Address the Challenges 

The Water & Environmental Law curriculum addresses the complex legal frameworks for establishing access to safe and reliable water. The California Constitution’s requirement that all water use must be reasonable is relevant, as are provisions of the Water Code that elevate human rights to drinking water. The Water Code declares that domestic use is the highest use of water, although enforcement of that application has been limited over the decades. Additionally, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 is part of the legal framework. This Act requires local agencies to develop sustainability plans that consider drinking water for disadvantaged communities.  

It’s notable that in 2012 California was the first state in the U.S. to legislatively recognize a human right to water. Assembly Bill (AB) 685 recognized the right of all people to safe, affordable, accessible, and reliable water. The international community recognized such a right much earlier, and this recognition was due in substantial part to the work of McGeorge professor Steve McCaffrey, who was named the 2017 Stockholm Water Laureate for his contributions. California’s human right to water law establishes a basic right to water, and it directs state agencies to consider the right to water—but nonetheless, additional legislation is clearly needed. California’s law does not require the state to provide water or to spend money, nor does the law affect the responsibilities of any public water system. 

Funding to Support Access and Infrastructure

Ultimately, the resolution of drinking water problems in disadvantaged communities requires access to water service and to infrastructure like treatment and storage. Small water systems need funding, and they need institutional arrangements to provide economies of scale for capital investments, operation, maintenance, repair, and management. Over the last few years California has enacted new laws that provide such funding and that provide the state with the authority to encourage or require consolidation of small water systems to put such funding to good use. 

One example of a successful funding strategy is SB 200, which the California legislature passed in 2019. SB 200, known as the Safe Drinking Water Fund, allocates revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program to drinking water improvements for disadvantaged communities. The state combines that funding with additional money and regulatory tools via The Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience (SAFER) program. The state conducts ongoing needs assessments that establish priorities for further investment.

Making a Difference

Ongoing work on the human right to water provides opportunities for people to make a real difference. The Water & Environmental Law courses at McGeorge focus on these issues and help students identify practical paths for becoming part of the solution. There is significant need for new voices in this field, and there is significant opportunity for change.

McGeorge’s Water & Environmental Law Program

McGeorge offers two fully online part-time programs in Water & Environmental Law:

  • The Master of Science in Law (MSL) is designed for land use planners, engineers, environmental consultants, public information officers, lobbyists, public agency and legislative staff, and others who seek expertise in this continually-evolving field but do not require a law degree.
  • The Master of Laws (LLM) is for attorneys, recent law school graduates, or foreign-educated legal professionals to develop depth of knowledge in a specialized area of environmental, water resources, regulatory compliance, and public agency law.

Students build marketable expertise with the guidance of expert faculty chosen for outstanding teaching as well as depth of knowledge in water and environmental law. In our water and environmental law program, our courses emphasize real-world knowledge and development of practical skills. 

The programs are convenient and are specifically designed for students and professionals who need flexibility due to work, professional, or other obligations and who want to further their education and advance their career. 

Long Intrigued by the Possibility of a Legal Career, Amanda Richie Decided to Launch a Career in Policy with a Master of Legal Studies Degree

McGeorge’s MSL Program Helped This Graduate Pursue Policy Work

While interning for a California State Senator, Amanda Richie, MSL ‘18, quickly realized that most of the Sacramento Capitol staff she worked with had earned advanced degrees. 

Amanda, who earned her bachelor’s degree in political science, made a decision that she wanted to pursue a career in policy work. She learned about McGeorge’s Master of Science in Law in Government Law & Policy, attended an informational session, and determined the program was right for her.

Master of Science in Law at McGeorge Gives Alumna Legal Training to Make Bills Become Law

Master of Science in Law

Michelle Teran-Woolfork, MSL ’17, took a different career path than the one she initially had planned. She always wanted to go to law school and become an attorney. From there she planned on advocating for domestic violence survivors. Her current path still allows her to make the difference she intended on making, however, in a much different way and on behalf of many more people than she ever thought. 

When It Comes to Teaching the Voting Rights Act, this Professor Literally Wrote the Book

This year is the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and it comes with many reminders of the complex state of voting rights and election law in the U.S. The Covid-19 pandemic has complicated the logistics of voter registration and elections. A June report from the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research shows a significant decline in new voter registration numbers compared to the months leading up to the last presidential election in 2016. This summer the American Bar Association’s Human Rights Magazine devoted two issues to voting rights, including discussions of voter roll purges, racial gerrymandering, and cybersecurity issues and concerns.

When Do You Need a Law Degree

When most people think of graduate-level law degrees, the Juris Doctor (JD) is the first that comes to mind. They may not consider, or even realize, the merits of Master of Science in Law (MSL) degrees and other master’s-level programs. As you chart your educational path, keep in mind that a JD isn’t the only option. While a JD is the right choice if you want to be a lawyer, a master’s degree in law can help you reach other career goals. 

Just as you choose a route through town based on your destination, you can select a degree program based on where you want your career to go. While a JD is the most the only route to becoming a lawyer, other degree programs can take your career to diverse and interesting destinations.

Lobbying and Lawmaking During a Pandemic

Lawmaking doesn’t stop during a pandemic. In fact, the work of lawmakers and lobbyists becomes, in many ways, more pressing than ever. With governments and their citizens facing the new challenge of life in a pandemic, lawmakers must find ways to continue serving their constituents. Also, lobbyists must continue to represent their causes and ideals. 

Chris Micheli, adjunct professor at McGeorge School of Law and a principal with the Sacramento government relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, is continuing to lobby and engage with the legal processes of the California State Legislature throughout the pandemic. His experience informs his teaching at the McGeorge Capital Center for Law and the online Master of Science in Law (MSL) in Government Law & Policy program. 

COVID-19: Lessons in Leadership

Lessons in Leadership

By Professor Matthew Brandstetter

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged society in many ways, creating anxiety around health, finances, and the future. As we navigate these challenges we seek guidance and reassurance from our leaders. Also, leaders bring to their roles a variety of leadership strategies and styles. Some leaders are robust, and others are so quiet and unassuming that we may overlook their impact. Even a quick glance at history reveals strong leaders who have helped us navigate periods of significant change, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Angela Merkel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, to mention a few.

Making the Most of Online Learning in a Time of Crisis

Learning in a Time of Crisis

Learning in a time of crisis is a challenge for anyone. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic changes many aspects of life, you know that thoughtful policy and well-crafted laws can help get our nation and our world back to some semblance of normalcy. That’s why it is important to make the most of your online learning, so you can develop practical skills and real-world knowledge that can meet upcoming challenges. But first you need to meet the personal challenge of learning during a crisis.

Build your experience with a Master of Science in Law Degree

Listen to the briefing on the Online Master of Science in Law (MSL). Prgrams in Government Law and Policy program at McGeorge School of Law. Project manager and podcaster Jon Wainwright interviews Chris Micheli. An Adjunct Professor, course designer, and partner in government relations firm Aprea & Micheli. They discuss instructors, courses, and the value that a McGeorge MSL can bring to your career.

“You have a real opportunity to not only get some law school training but also some experience and expertise in specific subject matters,” Micheli said.

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