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Blog Post · January 15, 2019

A Momentous Water Year

California was bookended by extreme events last year―from the Southern California mudslides in January to the disastrous wildfires north and south in November, and in between, a bout of record-breaking heat in Los Angeles. These events are all connected to policy challenges that California water managers and decision makers are grappling with—issues that are front and center in our work at the PPIC Water Policy Center.

  • Climate change is bringing multiple climate pressures that affect the state’s water supplies and complicate water management. We assembled a team of 30 experts in climate science, hydrology, ecology, engineering, economics, and law to review the weak points in the state’s water system and recommend actions to build its climate resilience. Our new report―published as Governor Brown’s Global Action Climate Summit kicked off in September―provided an accessible analysis of how climate change will affect droughts and summarized reforms needed to better manage future droughts and adapt the state water system to a more volatile climate. Next up is a research project on how to manage wastewater as the climate changes.
  • Two years of tragic, extreme fires stirred debate on how best to address this growing risk, and productive change is already underway. Our ongoing work has guided the development of significant reforms to improve forest health and reduce wildfire risk. Governor Brown directed state agencies to increase forest management in accordance with some of our recommendations. And a new law reflects a number of our suggested reforms to help headwater landowners better manage their forests. New federal and local policy changes will also help. We’ve begun a deeper dive into the benefits—and beneficiaries—of improved forest management as a next step to identifying durable funding solutions.
  • The San Joaquin Valley―California’s largest agricultural region—faces major challenges in managing its groundwater, a critical drought reserve. Our research on recharging groundwater basins laid out key problems that must be addressed to capture more water for underground storage and described what can be done to advance recharge efforts. Next month we’ll release a comprehensive review of solutions to the San Joaquin Valley’s many water and land management challenges that will help the valley continue on a prosperous path for the next century.
  • We hosted a large public event in November to identify water priorities for the new governor. A group of 16 experts discussed how the Newsom administration can promote water policies and practices that benefit the state’s people, economy, and environment. We also updated and expanded our policy briefing kit, California’s Water, to inform newly elected leaders on key water issues—including a new brief on providing safe drinking water. We look forward to working with the new administration to develop meaningful, lasting, forward-looking water policies.

As we move into our fifth year, the PPIC Water Policy Center looks forward to being part of the effort to 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 2019,

Ellen Hanak

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climate change Forests and Fires Freshwater Ecosystems groundwater San Joaquin Valley Water Supply Water, Land & Air wildfires