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Summary

This past year was a prime example of California’s highly variable climate—and a precursor of the types of extremes that are expected to become more common. After five years of drought exacerbated by record heat, 2017’s record rain and snow brought more challenges—stressing dams and levees, causing landslides, and adding fuel to fire-prone landscapes.

Across California, leaders have responded with a number of policy and management reforms, including some that will help the state adapt to droughts and floods of the future. But there’s more work to be done.

In this policy brief we outline issues that are front and center for managing California’s water supply and natural environment. We also suggest priorities for actions that would improve California’s water systems and better support the state’s residents, businesses, and ecosystems. These priorities fall under three overarching themes:

Ensuring clean and reliable water supplies: Key issues include increasing the capacity to store water, managing water demands cost-effectively in both urban and farm settings, and providing safe drinking water to poor, under­served communities.

Enhancing the natural environment: The decline of the state’s headwater forests and freshwater ecosystems—both reeling from the latest drought— has increased the urgency for new management approaches.

Tackling problems in key watersheds: Big decisions lie ahead for addressing water supply and environmental challenges in two watersheds that are especial­ly important to California’s water supply: the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

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PPIC WATER POLICY CENTER

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