Jun 17, 2020 at 10:30am

Maven's Notebook

In October 2019, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released the report, Priorities for California’s Water, which outlined California’s water management challenges and their top priorities for addressing those challenges.  Other reports from the PPIC have highlighted actions that would prepare California’s water systems and natural environment for the changing climate and drought.  At the May meeting of the California Water Commission, Alvar Escriva-Bou, a research fellow at PPIC’s Water Policy Center, gave a presentation on the PPIC’s findings and how they align with the actions of the draft water resilience portfolio.


California’s water management needs to adapt to the changing conditions, such as the effects of climate change, a growing population, mandated groundwater sustainability, new technologies, changing regulations, and changing relationships between state, federal, and local agencies.

The PPIC report, Managing Drought in a Changing Climate: Four Essential Reforms, identified five climate pressures that have broad impacts on California’s water management:

Warming temperatures and an increase in the number of extreme temperature days: The higher temperatures directly reduce runoff by increasing evaporation.  Also air temperature affects water temperature and that will present challenges for the way we manage our freshwater ecosystems.

Shrinking snowpack:  The future snowpack will be significantly reduced.  The peak snowmelt is occurring earlier in the spring.  There are also ‘snow droughts’ which are periods of little and no snowpack.  These changes in snowpack will impact California water supplies as it is one of state’s major reservoirs.

Shorter wet seasons:  There will be also changes in seasonality of precipitation.  The average precipitation is predicted to be similar to what we have today, but by mid-century, winters are expected to become shorter and more intense and we will have less precipitation in late fall and early spring.

More volatile precipitation patterns:  So-called ‘whiplash events’ are increasing.  There are more extreme dry and extreme wet year in succession, such as the drought of 2012-2016 and the very wet 2017.

Rising seas:  Rising sea levels will challenge California’s water management, by not only by salt water intrusion into coastal aquifers, but also within the Delta where increasing salinity can impact water exports from the Delta to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.


Addressing these issues requires an innovative and integrated portfolio of solutions,” said Alvar Escriva-Bou.  “We have an aging infrastructure that was designed with the hydrology that we don’t have any more.  We have these increasing extreme events that are also affecting our supplies and demand.

The report, Priorities for California’s Water, identified 5 priorities:

Priority 1: Modernize the water grid.

The PPIC defines the water grid as the combination of surface storage and conveyance infrastructure, as well as the groundwater basins.  Infrastructure needs to work efficiently together, especially now with the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Addressing infrastructure weaknesses is essential for reducing the cost of future droughts and floods,” Mr. Escriva-Bou said.  “We have to prepare for changing conditions to enhance groundwater storage and to rethink the way that we operate infrastructure.”

Priority 2: Prepare for changing supply and demand.

State agencies should encourage and incentivize local water agencies to develop portfolios to manage supply and demand on the regional scale.  A regional scale reduces the risks as local agencies are more vulnerable.

Water needs to be better connected to land use planning; this is especially important under SGMA.

In the report we published last year, we predicted that at least 500,000 acres farmland might need to go out of production by 2040 with the passage of SGMA, so this, if land use planning is not taken into consideration, it can increase dust, pests, and weeds in the Valley,” he said.  “So it’s important to connect the way that we manage water and land.”

To prepare for changing supplies and demands, it is essential to add flexibility to the system,” he continued.  “Trading can add a lot of flexibility, so it’s important to make it easier to trade water as this can significantly reduce the costs of complying with SGMA, and also to help cities and the environment.”

Priority 3: Provide safe, affordable, and reliable drinking water.

The map on the left shows communities with drinking water systems that have water quality violations.  The map on the right shows the communities that are facing shortages; the blue dots are hotspots of water shortages during the drought and the red dots are water systems that applied for emergency help.

There are many communities, especially small communities, that are having problems with quality and quantity of water, so implementing cost effective solutions for safe drinking water in poor communities is essential,” said Mr. Escriva-Bou.  “We have to build drought resilience for these small water systems and domestic wells and to align state efforts on water quality and reliability and finally to collaborate on affordable solutions.”

Read more from the full original article here.