The California state assembly says developers must prove they have water rights before they receive final approval for their subdivisions. State legislators have debated a water-rights mandate for nearly a decade; it took the state's electricity crisis (HCN, 1/29/01: Power on the loose), which raised the specter of natural resource shortages, to push Senate Bill 221 over the top this fall.
State environmental groups have greeted the new law with enthusiasm.
"We think it's great," says Bill Allayaud of the Sierra Club. "It's good to see sprawling development has to show they have the infrastructure (before building)."
Not everyone is happy with the law. Bob Reeb of the Association of California Water Agencies worries that water districts will now be open to litigation from anti-development groups. And, since the law only applies to subdivisions with 500 units or more, he says the requirement can be sidestepped by building smaller developments.
The Sierra Club's Allayaud says this loophole is a concern, but he argues the law is a good first step.
"We'd like to see things really tightened up," he says, "but things get done incrementally. At least we're partway there."
Gov. Gray Davis signed the bill into law in early October. It will go into effect on Jan. 1.