A Paradoxical Moment in California Water Policy: The Time for Action

Thursday, Jan 12th, 2023

By David Guy

We are living in an interesting moment in California, as we are simultaneously watching a serious flood emergency (see President Biden’s emergency declaration here) while preparing for a dry year and operating under the Governor’s drought proclamations and orders. This seems like a paradox, but it instead reveals the nature of California, with the weather whiplash that graces the west coast, and why we need to more aggressively advance water management that better adapts to a changing climate and our state’s important values.

Californians have built an amazing and highly managed water system. But this system is under strain as our values in California water continue to evolve and we face increasing recurrence of droughts, floods and fires. California’s current population of 40 million will grow to 50 million by 2050. We have the most abundant agricultural bounty in the world, we are graced with a stunning landscape and related natural infrastructure, we are the 5th largest economy in the world, and people pursue endless recreational opportunities in every part of the state. Water is essential for all of these special features that define California. A balanced and contemplative approach that embraces and then enhances California’s unique values in water is needed for this great state to continue to protect and enhance our communities, economy, and environment.

This seemingly paradoxical moment in time highlights the importance of good wet-year water management and the need to capture the abundance of water now–when it is available–so we can have water in both reservoirs and groundwater aquifers for use at a later time when needed, not knowing whether these storms will continue throughout the winter and spring. In this spirit, we appreciate the urgency called for by Governor Newsom in California’s Water Supply Strategy to accelerate and modernize California’s water management system to better serve people, farms, fish and wildlife, and recreation.

The recent dry years in California have shown that expanding and modernizing our water infrastructure in California is a must-do for California’s future. This modern infrastructure includes maximizing the use of our existing reservoirs, new water storage (such as the Sites off-stream reservoir and groundwater storage), access to safe drinking water for all our communities, reactivating our floodplains, healthy farms and soils, and watershed management with forest health. We cannot meet our future water demands without modernizing our infrastructure and stretching our available water supplies during these times. The Governor’s Water Supply Strategy recognizes this moment in time and points us all forward to aggressively modernize our water infrastructure in California and to help implement ridgetop to river mouth water management in the Sacramento River Basin. Now is a time for action!

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