Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Environment, Economics, and Politics (EEP)

Reader 1

William Ascher

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© 2018 Lauren N Dorsey


California endured an extreme and prolonged drought from 2012 until the winter of 2017, offering a fascinating yet tragic example of how drought impacts lives. Despite this recent and stark phenomenon, there is surprisingly little information about its effects and implications. This thesis aims to lessen this knowledge gap by asking how severe the drought was, how well the state responded, and what policies would increase California’s water security. It answers these questions by exploring the Golden State’s long and complicated water management history, which is necessary to understand the current drought policy framework; then, it collects the emerging literature concerning the drought’s multifaceted effects into one of the first state-wide meta-analyses. With this perspective, it becomes clear that the most severe drought vulnerability is in the agricultural sector—alone costing Californians billions of dollars—but spreads into a host of other economic and ecological effects. Australia provides an apt comparison and some potential lessons, including agricultural water efficiency, market solutions, a more consistent drought culture, and innovative water supply solutions. In addition to offering some infrastructure and public education solutions, Australia’s example hints that the California state government may need to assume a heightened enforcement and information-gathering role in order to more efficiently manage scarce water resources. Nonetheless, as the State emerges from drought and looks to an uncertain future—where the next drought may already be upon us—the extent to which California proactively adopts drought strategies will not only affect millions of lives and billions of dollars, but must be at the forefront of ethical, forward-looking, and cost-minimizing resource management.


Best Senior Thesis in Environment, Economics, and Politics