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Sacramento and Feather Rivers

A Strong Start for PPIC’s Water Policy Center

Ellen Hanak January 15, 2016

Nine months ago—serendipitously, just one day after Governor Brown announced a state of emergency in response to the drought—the PPIC Water Policy Center was launched with the goal of spurring water management innovations to support a healthy economy, environment, and society. Today, cities throughout the state remain focused on water conservation while simultaneously bracing for El Niño floods (it will take more than one wet year to recover from the drought).Through it all, our center—with its network of more than 40 researchers—has been contributing to important water policy debates with new research, publications, and public outreach.

In our first nine months, the Water Policy Center waded quickly into the depths of California’s most pressing water issues, starting with the ongoing drought. Our first major report, What If California’s Drought Continues?, documented the drought’s effects on different sectors and suggestions to improve drought response in the most urgent problem areas—particularly water for rural communities and the environment.

We also reviewed the performance of the state’s water market and water rights systems in response to drought. Allocating California’s Water: Directions for Reform describes ways to improve these systems’ efficiency and transparency, as well as their responsiveness to the environment and public health. We briefed the governor’s office, the State Water Board, California Environmental Protection Agency, and the legislature on the findings. The report generated a spirited conversation in the media and with decision makers about the need to reform water rights to improve water management across the state.

In addition to these major research efforts, we’ve been hard at work interpreting key water issues in “short form” as well. You can get quickly up to speed on key topics through our water blog (sign up for it here) and our growing library of fact sheets, which cover topics such as California’s water quality challenges and reforming groundwater management. Our briefing kit outlines nine pressing water issues facing the state. Our YouTube page hosts our videos on a range of key topics and events.

Another very important aspect of our work is public outreach. In its inaugural year, the Water Policy Center sponsored four regional outreach meetings in Fresno, Monterey, Los Angeles, and San Jose on locally important topics. We testified at hearings held by the state assembly and senate, and had numerous meetings with state, federal, and local water officials and key stakeholders. We gave many talks around the state and in other western states, including at a “Climate One” panel in San Francisco; a forum for environmental educators in San Diego; and meetings of Water Education for Latino Leaders, the Association of California Water Agencies, and the Western Growers Association, among others.

Looking ahead, we’re working on a number of exciting new projects, ranging from improving the federal response to western drought, to strengthening California’s water accounting and information systems, to applying lessons from Australia’s experience with environmental drought planning and management. We are beginning a three-year project funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency to examine the response by federal, state, and local institutions to drought, and develop recommendations to improve long-term drought management.

California’s water landscape is unpredictable and challenging—yet ripe for reforms that will help the state prepare for a changing climate and a growing population and economy. We’re already seeing progress on some of California’s toughest problems, from groundwater management to addressing water security in rural communities. We at the Water Policy Center are looking forward to tackling the state’s most pressing water challenges in the coming year—and to hearing your perspectives on these critical issues.

News and analysis of California policy issues from PPIC

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