The American West is notorious for its water wars, and California’s complex water allocation and governance challenges serve as a bellwether for contemporary water governance across western states. Policy makers and environmental advocates typically represent California’s water woes as a regulatory problem-a failure to balance the needs of growing urban populations with ecological preservation and agricultural irrigation. These debates, however, often elide the issue of water deprivation, and they do not adequately address the concerns of an important constituency: low-income, rural communities.
This Comment argues that a focus on regulation misses a fundamental feature of water inequality: the structure and design of local water districts. Utilizing a case study of California’s Central Valley to illustrate how these structural barriers operate, I argue that California’s complex system of local water districts fractures governance, limits electoral participation, and undermines the State’s stated environmental, equity, and utilitarian water goals. I offer suggestions for alternative local water district organization in order to address the constraints of California’s current water governance regime.