California Water Law

Does California Water Law Need To Change To Address Climate Change?

Why California Water Law Is So Important

California’s arid climate contributes to its unique water conditions. Current laws provide a useful framework for managing water, but improvements are imperative if California is to provide safe drinking water, adapt to climate change, and protect its ecosystems. McGeorge’s professor of Water Resources Law, Jennifer Harder, described proposed reforms to California water law in a recent webinar. Professor Harder outlined changes recommended by a group of water law experts, which are intended to benefit all people and entities that rely on California’s water supply. Additionally, this blog discusses some positive news: the approved Senate Bill 389, which Professor Harder advocated and championed.
California Water Law

Nature of Drought in California

California experiences a special kind of scarcity, having water in the wrong places at the wrong time. Wet winters and springs and dry summers and falls are typical for the western region of the U.S., including California. In California, more rain and snow fall in the northern part of the states and the eastern mountains, and less in central and southern California. Professor Harder explains that these particular kinds of scarcity are why California is said to be in a perpetual drought. However, when California is not in a drought phase, it is often flooding; a symptom of California’s climate of extremes.
The New York Times recently reported that many states, including California, are in a so-called “megadrought.” These states are experiencing some of the driest conditions in a 20 – 30 year period that we’ve seen in centuries. And 30 – 50% of those conditions directly result from climate change.
California’s unique water conditions create several challenges for the state’s water laws. Professor Harder notes, “There are some elements to our water law that are very capable, very flexible, and allow California to address drought. There are other elements that need to be changed.”
The constitutional standard for water in California states that water must be put to reasonable, beneficial use to the fullest extent possible. Moreover, the property rights in water have both public and private elements. Specifically, the laws enacted by the state legislature say that water belongs to the people of the state, but the state may allocate the private rights to water to individuals.
In proposed changes to water laws, both the public interest and private rights in water will need to be accommodated. Climate change will also have to be taken into consideration, or both public and private interests will be significantly affected, resulting in serious water shortages.

A Triumph in Water Law Reforms

In 1978, then-California Governor Pat Brown presented the Governor’s Commission Report, which made important recommendations to reform California water rights law. The 1978 Governor’s Commission Report inspired a recent reform proposal, authored by a group of water law and policy experts, including Professor Harder. The final report of these experts, “Updating California Water Law to Address Drought and Climate Change,” was issued on February 3rd, 2022. The report proposed reforms in the following three key policy areas: 

  • Implementing the human right to water
  • Adjusting the tools available to the State Water Resources Control Board
  • Address the extinction crisis in California native fisheries

Specific recommendations relate to ensuring that those who are dependent on groundwater for drinking water are not impacted by agricultural groundwater pumping; providing the state with the tools needed to ensure that water rights are lawfully exercised; providing for “real-time” data regarding use of water statewide; and ensuring that dams are operated to protect water quality for fish. The group did not suggest that their recommended reforms would provide all necessary fixes to state law; the group advocates for and supports others that seek to reform California’s water laws recommendations. 

The report was  incorporated into legislation and considered for regulatory implementation as Senate Bill 389, which was signed by Governor Newsom on October 8, 2023. If you would like too learn more about the details of the proposed recommendations, please watch the webinar.

Professor Jennifer Harder was integral in helping to write the bill, testified on the bill, and otherwise engaged with the legislative process. SB 389 provides clear authority for the state of California’s water agency to investigate the validity of all surface water rights and to bring enforcement actions where warranted. Prior to this bill, the Board did not have clear authority over certain common law rights to water called “pre-1914” and “riparian” rights. This bill is a real-world step in the right direction, and McGeorge School of Law is proud of contributing to a better climate future.

McGeorge would also like to note that SB 389 was the brainchild of former Deputy AG Cliff Lee, who passed away in 2022, and with whom Professor Harder worked closely to develop and support the bill. The reform effort was initiated by Jonas Minton of the Planning & Conservation League, who also passed in 2022.  SB 389 is a testament to their memories. 

The MSL Program’s Unique Environmental Courses

If you are inspired and interested in becoming part of the change, your next step is right here. The MSL degree is a part-time, fully online, 26-unit degree program with asynchronous lectures. Students interact with their professors and classmates weekly through discussion boards throughout the program and have opportunities to work on projects with classmates and meet with professors virtually in flexible office hours. Typically, the coursework is spread over two years. However, arrangements for a more flexible schedule can be made with the Assistant Dean for Graduate and Online Programs.

McGeorge’s Master of Science in Law online program has two concentrations – Government Law and Policy and Water and Environmental Law. These two concentrations are closely connected and complement each other. The MSL program is for those who want to have practical knowledge of law and policy but do not want to be lawyers.

The Water and Environmental Law program offers unique courses that focus on the legal aspects of environmental issues. For example, water and environmental law is heavily connected to the work of public agencies at the local, state and federal levels; McGeorge’s curriculum includes courses such as The Executive Branch and the Administrative State, and Leadership in Organizations, which provide students with practical skills needed to work with agencies. Some of these skills include lessons in how to write, interpret, and comment on policies and regulations, expert insights into agency process, and practical strategies for working with agencies. 

Other courses:

  • Water Resources Law, taught by Professor Harder, gives students a practical understanding of water use and the social policies that govern water management.
  • Environmental Law is a survey course that covers the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and laws in other areas such as, for example, hazardous waste and climate change.
  • Water and Environmental Justice focuses on water rights in disadvantaged communities, federal and tribal rights, the human right to water, and the public trust doctrine. The course looks at water allocation through a critical race lens and investigates the legal and institutional frameworks for water supply as well as the deeply related issue of land use, with a particular focus on drinking water.

McGeorge also offers the LLM in Water & Environmental Law. The LLM program 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 the depth of knowledge in government law, water resources, or environmental law. Courses emphasize real-world knowledge and the development of practical skills. The programs are convenient and are specifically designed for working professionals or students who need flexibility due to career, family, or other obligations, and who want to further their education and advance their career.

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MSL Student

Learn from a Current MSL Student

MSL Student - Lazaro CardenasLazaro Cardenas (MSL ‘22) is the Chief for the newly created Health in All Policies/Racial and Health Equity Section in the Office of Health Equity at the California Department of Public Health. He chose McGeorge’s Master of Science in Law (MSL) program to get legal training that will advance his career in equity and public health without a JD degree.  

Lazaro spoke with us in a webinar about his decision. Before enrolling in the McGeorge program, Lazaro worked as a fellow and legislative aide for the California State Assembly and then as an environmental justice and tribal affairs specialist for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. Lazaro recently served as a racial equity specialist in the California Department of Public Health where he was recently promoted to build and run a new section to advance health and racial equity in California State government. 

It had been six years since he earned his undergraduate degree, and he took stock of his experience and skillset. Lazaro said he considered pursuing a Master of Public Policy or Master of Public Administration degree, “but those options didn’t make sense for me.” 

Instead, Lazaro concluded the best strategy was to pursue a Master of Science and Law with a focus on government and health law. “With my work at state agencies, and especially my work on equity, having a legal framework and legal skills was what was missing,” he said. “I needed those skills to grow in my career.”

Flexibility, Reputation, and Professional Network

As an MSL student, you can choose to attend the McGeorge MSL program in person, online, or a combination of the two. Because Lazaro planned to continue working full time while pursuing his graduate degree, selecting a flexible program was a high priority. Lazaro attends a mix of online and on-campus courses, which provides the flexible school schedule he needs. Additionally, Lazaro told us, the program offers him the flexibility of taking coursework in health law plus other sectors of the law. 

Lazaro compared the experience of taking both in-person and online courses, saying the combination works well for him. “The asynchronous online courses gave me the flexibility I needed to continue my career path,” he said. “The course design and course portal make it clear what is required each week, making it easy to stay on track and be accountable.”

Working in the Sacramento area, Lazaro knew of McGeorge’s solid reputation and the school’s extensive network of professionals in the Sacramento area and beyond. The opportunity to tap into this network was a compelling reason that factored into his decision to pursue the MSL program. 

“For all these reasons,” he told us, “McGeorge made the most sense for me.” 

Lazaro said he is halfway through the program and already feels more equipped to engage with issues of compliance and change within organizations, especially within a legal framework. His health law coursework has direct and practical application to the real-world issues he sees in his work. “I feel very confident,” he said, “about how this program will drive my career forward.”

To hear more of our conversation with Lazaro and more details about the MSL program, listen to the webinar.

McGeorge’s Online MSL & LLM Programs 

McGeorge offers both in-person and online programs. The two fully online part-time Master of Science in Law programs are:

  • The MSL in Government Law & Policy is designed for local, state, and federal agency employees, and for lobbyists, legislative staff, and others who seek to enhance their skills in lawmaking, regulation, election law, and lobbying but who do not require a traditional law degree.
  • The MSL in Water & Environmental Law provides value to land-use planners, engineers, environmental consultants, and others who seek expertise in this continually-evolving field but who do not require a JD degree.

Additionally, a fully online part-time LLM in Water & Environmental Law program 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 the depth of knowledge in government law, water resources, or environmental law. Courses emphasize real-world knowledge and the development of practical skills. The programs are convenient and are specifically designed for working professionals or students who need flexibility due to career, family, or other obligations, and who want to further their education and advance their career.

Start building your career today with McGeorge School of Law Online. For more information, contact us at graduatelaw@pacific.edu or 916.739.7019.

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Professor Jennifer Harder

Why McGeorge Has One of the Best Environmental Law School Programs

The McGeorge School of Law, the best environmental law school program in California, provides opportunities for students to take on leadership roles in a challenging global economy. Climate change, plastic pollution, and poor environmental governance are challenging the state of our environment. McGeorge’s MSL in Water and Environmental Law gives students a real-world education with the hands-on experience to help them contribute to policies that positively impact the environment. 

McGeorge is the best environmental law school for several reasons.

Our Faculty – Leading Environmental Law Experts

The environmental law faculty are experts in water and environmental law, and they impart real-world knowledge and practical skills in their outstanding teaching. The professors have years of hands-on experience in the areas they teach. Here are a few examples of the caliber of professor you’ll learn from at McGeorge.

Best Environmental Law SchoolProfessor Rachel Salcido is both the founder and Co-Director of the law school’s Water and Environmental Law Concentration, where she helps students garner interest in environmental law and connects students with careers in the field. She believes there are myriad opportunities today for students interested in engaging in environmental law — including work on climate change, water, and environmental justice. She co-authored the textbook Global Issues in Environmental Law with Professor Stephen McCaffrey, which examines international and transnational pollution control, remediation, and species protection issues. 


Best Environmental Law SchoolAnother professor with extensive experience in water law is Professor Stephen McCaffrey. A Distinguished Professor of Law, he is one of the world’s foremost authorities on international water law and teaches International Water Resources Law. In 2018, Professor McCaffrey received the Distinguished Elisabeth Haub Award for Environmental Law and Diplomacy. He won the award for his lifetime of service in developing international environmental law and for his work on the International Law Commission. He was named the Stockholm Water Laureate in 2017. 



Professor Jennifer HarderProfessor Jennifer Harder teaches Water Resources Law and Environmental Practice and is Co-Director of McGeorge’s Water & Environmental Law concentration. Before joining McGeorge, Professor Harder represented clients at the State Water Resources Control Board and represented local governments and private entities on water, environmental, and public agency issues for ten years. She uses this background to help develop the online graduate programming as McGeorge’s Faculty Director for Online Learning. Professor Harder received the Hether C. McFarlane Teaching Innovation Award in 2018.


Professor Kim Delfino teaches Environmental Law in McGeorge’s Water & Environmental Law program. She is the founder and president of Earth Advocacy, a firm that provides policy and advocacy guidance to nonprofits and foundations. Prior to her work with Earth Advocacy, Professor Delfino was the California program director for Defenders of Wildlife and a member of the California Water Commission. Her policy expertise lies in state and federal endangered species, land use planning, water, and other natural resource laws.


Professor Nicole Kuenzi teaches the administrative law course in McGeorge’s graduate Water & Environmental Law Program and is an expert on agency practice and on California water law. She is a hearing officer in California’s Administrative Hearings Office. The office is housed within the California State Water Resources Control Board, which is the agency charged with safeguarding the state’s water resources for all Californians. 

At McGeorge, students gain a practical understanding of water allocation and its use in contemporary society and critically examine the social policies that govern water management. The online MSL for Water and Environmental Law program is one of the few that emphasizes water resources law.

McGeorge’s Online MSL Program

The Master of Science in Law for Water and Environmental Law is a specialized online master’s degree program accessible to working professionals. The program is part-time, fully online, with asynchronous coursework so students can study on their schedule. They gain practical skills based on a real-world curriculum. Even though the program is online, students can engage with faculty and peers using tools and technology that support an interconnected online environment.

With the MSL in Water and Environmental Law, you’ll have an advantage over the competition with specialized knowledge that will enhance your potential for career advancement. You will benefit from the network of faculty, experts, alumni, and other water and environmental law students. In addition, you could write a publishable research paper that would increase your credibility when combined with the MSL and could be a gateway to Ph.D. work.

The law is at the center of the majority of water and environmental issues. So, any environmental career would be enhanced with the MSL degree. The degree would enable you to understand and engage with the law and policy aspects of your field. 

Our MSL coursework will allow you to understand the local, state, and federal statutes and regulations, including the process of drafting, judicial review, and implementation. The curriculum focuses equally on practical skills as well as legal theory. For example, you’ll learn about state and federal frameworks for water rights, pollution control, species protection, climate change, and environmental justice.  You will also learn how to identify specific water rights, develop specific proposals for ensuring equity in natural resources distribution, comment on regulations, respond to comments, and compiling administrative records. You will have the opportunity to learn how environmental legal professionals communicate and negotiate, and develop leadership skills that will help you achieve your goals and make a difference. 

Water and Environmental Law Fundamentals

The Water and Environmental Law concentration provides critical knowledge and skills in today’s complex regulatory environment. The master course of study facilitates interdisciplinary excellence within government, non-profit, and private enterprise.

The topics covered in the coursework for the online MSL are some of the most critical environmental issues the world is facing. For example, some of the legal principles covered in Water Resources Law include surface and groundwater rights, drought management, federal-state relationships, reasonable use and waste, the public trust doctrine, instream flows, tribal rights, federal reserved rights, and water storage projects. Students learn to identify specific water rights and assess water supply sustainability in a community of their choice. 

In the Environmental Law course, particular attention is given to common law doctrines and public rights and remedies, as well as federal and state control programs for air pollution, water pollution, solid waste management, and climate change. There’s a focus on fish and wildlife resources and planning within federal, state, and local agencies. Students receive training in core areas of environmental law, and explore real-world opportunities for engaging on these issues. 

Online MSL in Water and Environmental Law For a Changing Legal Environment

Specific topics in the Water and Environmental Justice course include the human right to water, local, state, and federal governance of drinking water, water finance and affordability, private pollution and energy production, rural communities of color and infrastructure, agricultural pollution, and grassroots advocacy. Students have the opportunity to evaluate specific drinking water systems and recommend real-world solutions. 

These are just a few of the compelling course offerings available to McGeorge MSL students. Our distinguished faculty and academic team design the courses for the online MSL in Water and Environmental Law to ensure that students are prepared for the rapidly changing legal environment. Our courses focus on developing the knowledge and professional skills needed in today’s water and environmental law field.

McGeorge’s faculty and staff are invested in student success and create a supportive and empathetic environment. But they don’t just teach – they challenge their students with new ideas and push them academically.

Tara Beltran (MSL ’18) was considering pursuing a master’s degree while managing a habitat program at a California public agency. Many of the MBA programs that she found lacked the foundational work in water and environmental law that she knew she needed for advancement. Tara determined that McGeorge was the best environmental law school and the Master of Science in Law was the best program to advance her career. “McGeorge’s program is absolutely relevant to my work,” Tara said, “and it definitely gave me what I needed.” “It pushed me professionally from having just a job to building a career.”

Tara praises her courses and the faculty at McGeorge, noting that “the professors are engaging and are experts in the field.”

In-Depth Research Courses Are Stepping Stones for Your Career

Another reason that McGeorge is the best environmental law school is the extensive knowledge that students gain in the MSL in water and environmental law program. The research courses allow students to deeply explore a specific topic, learning the nuances of theory and practice, setting them apart as experts and preparing them to tackle complex issues in the real world.

  • Directed Research in Water and Environmental Law: In this course, students engage in a comprehensive individual research project under the supervision of a full-time faculty member. The work product may take the form of a scholarly paper, empirical study, analysis of topical readings, or another creative format that demonstrates in-depth legal research and original analysis.


  • Master’s Thesis in Water and Environmental Law:  In the Master Thesis course, students write a thesis under the guidance of a full-time faculty member acting as supervisor. The thesis should present an original idea, demonstrate mastery of research skills appropriate to the field, and be analytical and/or critical instead of merely descriptive. The final product should exemplify high-quality academic writing consistent with the professional goals of the student.


Positions With Growth Potential

The online MSL program prepares students for a range of jobs in the water and environmental law field where legal knowledge is an advantage, but a law degree is not required. Just a few examples of the wide range of careers that are enhanced by these studies include:

  • Land Use Planners
  • Engineers
  • Environmental Consultants
  • Public Information Officers
  • Lobbyists
  • Public Agency and Legislative Staff
  • Policy Advisor
  • Environmental Policy Specialist
  • Environmental Advocates 

 Advantages to Learning Water and Environmental Law at McGeorge 

The Master of Science of Law for Water and Environmental Law offers an online course of study, which provides convenience for students. The program integrates state-of-the-art teaching and learning principles in online education, and our graduates testify to the value of the online courses. Online students have access to many academic resources and services at McGeorge such as, for example, library privileges and career counseling. In addition, all online students are welcome to participate in McGeorge water and environmental law activities, whether virtual or on-campus. 

McGeorge MSL students have opportunities to:

  • Attend job fairs, fields trips, lectures, and events in the McGeorge Water Law and Environmental Law Societies
  • Participate in premier water and environmental law graduate externships 
  • Obtain scholarships to help offset program costs and reduce loans  
  • Publish and network in McGeorge’s California Water Law Journal
  • Attend the California Water Law Symposium and other professional events
  • Attend online courses that provide practical, interdisciplinary learning and schedule flexibility
  • Participate in faculty-supervised independent and group research projects 

McGeorge also hosts monthly webinars with experts in law, water and environmental policy, faculty, and legal professionals. We encourage students to join and participate in the Q&A after the webinar.

Recognition in Legal Education

llm in Water & Environmental LawMcGeorge gains recognition for being a leader in legal education by the National Jurist, with the LLM in Water and Environmental Law making the Honor Roll for 2021-2022. The National Jurist is one of the leading news sources in the field of legal education. The magazine is published four times a year and lists the best national law schools based on diversity, value, practical training, and other factors.

The McGeorge School of Law provides the professional expertise necessary to acquire advanced knowledge of the U.S. legal system. If you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree but prefer not to become an attorney and practice law, an MSL from McGeorge provides you with the master’s-level depth of knowledge about law and policy that will help you accomplish your goals.

Students build marketable expertise with the guidance of expert faculty chosen for outstanding teaching as well as depth of knowledge in government law, water resources, or environmental law. Courses emphasize real-world knowledge and the development of practical skills. The programs are convenient and are specifically designed for working professionals or students who need flexibility due to career, family, or other obligations, and who want to further their education and advance their career. For more information, contact us at graduatelaw@pacific.edu or 916.739.7019.

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