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Beyond the Drought: 10 Big Changes Ahead for California Water

Ellen Hanak January 14, 2014

These days, all water news in California is focused on the weather. After two successive dry years, this year’s rainy season has yet to make a decent showing. Unless the skies open soon, the state seems firmly headed for a major drought, with serious implications for the farm economy, some water-scarce communities, and the fish and other species that depend on our rivers and streams.

Periodic droughts are inevitable in California, given the state’s highly variable climate, and many scientists expect such extreme events to become more frequent with climate change. An essential part of water management in California is preparing for this inevitability—with multi-pronged strategies that include water marketing, groundwater banking, conservation, and investment in non-traditional supplies like recycled wastewater. Each drought provides an opportunity to get better at stretching scarce supplies and reducing the economic hardship caused by water scarcity, as PPIC’s California Water Myths report points out.

I recently wrote a piece—with Jay Lund, PPIC adjunct fellow and UC Davis professor—for the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences’ California WaterBlog that highlights 10 other inevitable changes in store for California water. These changes range from vulnerable levees and uncertain water supply conditions in the Delta to deteriorating groundwater basins to the shrinking Salton Sea. To minimize hardship and disruption, most of the items on our top 10 list will—like droughts—require significant preparation and planning. This is often hard to do, given the tradeoffs and costs of most water management solutions. But we think that preparation is the best way to reduce the pain and develop a water policy that supports the kind of state Californians want, rather than wishfully thinking that California can avoid change.

News and analysis of California policy issues from PPIC

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