California saw some especially big changes over the past year in its ever-changing water world. New groundwater sustainability agencies finalized their plans to better manage overtapped groundwater supplies, and are poised to begin implementing them. In October, the Trump administration announced plans to pump more water from the Delta, complicating efforts to negotiate solutions to water supply and ecosystem management conflicts in the Central Valley. And the Newsom administration recently released a plan to make the state’s extensive water system more resilient to climate change. All of this—and much more—took place in 2019.
The PPIC Water Policy Center continued its engagement on the big water issues facing California, and offered ways to tackle them.
Climate change is bringing pressures that will seriously impact California’s water system: warming temperatures, shrinking snowpack, shorter and more intense wet seasons, more volatile precipitation, and rising seas. The issue is a defining element in much of the center’s work. Highlights from this year include:
- The Newsom administration asked the center to summarize key water policy priorities to improve climate resilience, and ways to improve integration across state agencies to implement these priorities. Our recommendations informed the administration’s “water resilience portfolio.”
- Our research on managing wastewater in a changing climate reviews how this important sector can maintain water quality in the face of reduced indoor water use, make smart recycled water investments, and build resilience to severe drought.
- I gave testimony at a House of Representatives committee on preparing western water infrastructure for a more volatile climate.
- We produced a trio of new fact sheets that explain how climate change affects California’s water; the importance of modernizing the state water grid to prepare it for the changes to come; and how to store more water in underground basins, which are a crucial drought reserve.
- Our biennial Priorities for California’s Water report provided recommendations for improving water management and preparing the state’s water systems and natural environment for a changing climate. The publication inspired multiple panel discussions at our annual water conference in November.
Sustainable groundwater management
The San Joaquin Valley—California’s largest agricultural region and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply—faces growing water stress. We released a far-reaching report that details the valley’s water-related challenges, and lays out cooperative approaches that can help bring groundwater basins into balance, provide safe drinking water, and manage changes to water and land that will maximize benefits to people and nature. The center partnered with Fresno State’s California Water Institute to host a half-day event to discuss the new report’s findings. Our team also took our findings to the state legislature, various stakeholder groups, the media, multiple state agencies, and more.
Our latest report calls for a new approach to protect the many benefits Californians derive from freshwater ecosystems. It lays out a plan to manage water, land, and species simultaneously to improve ecosystem health while also protecting native biodiversity and human uses of ecosystems. The approach, summarized here, is consistent with state and federal endangered species laws. We also held an event to hear from practitioners from around the state, who highlighted the advantages of this approach and the need to implement it more rapidly.
We’re thankful for these opportunities to help find creative and collaborative solutions to California’s most difficult and pressing water challenges. And as always, we thank our supporters who enable this important work.
With best wishes for a hopefully wet (but not too wet!) 2020,