Climate change is stressing water management across California. This week the PPIC Water Policy Center hosted its annual half-day workshop in Sacramento to discuss how state and local leaders can help prepare California’s water system and ecosystems for greater climate volatility.
“California has the most variable year-to-year climate of any state in the lower 48,” said Ellen Hanak, director of the PPIC Water Policy Center. “This is expected to increase, with drier dries and wetter wets.” Water management of the future will “need to start managing our droughts for floods and our floods for droughts,” she added, because greater volatility will make it harder to manage multipurpose reservoirs for both floods and droughts at the same time. Flexible, multi-benefit approaches—and solutions that are aligned across agencies—are going to be increasingly important in tackling these complex challenges.
The first panel focused on managing fast- and slow-moving disasters—floods, fires, and droughts. Panelists discussed the impacts of the recent fires on communities and local water systems, and the types of tools and partnerships that can help minimize risks. Tim Ramirez of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board described the significant and increasing flood risk in the San Joaquin Valley and called for a flood bypass to protect the growing Stockton region. And Michael Thompson of Sonoma Water called for funding from the state to support the “collaborative infrastructure” that will enable agencies to work together more effectively.
A panel on safe drinking water summarized the current status of the problem and discussed how to best use the new Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to ensure that the water delivery system works for everyone. “I think that in five years we want to see every child in California has safe drinking water in their home,” said Jonathan Nelson of the Community Water Center. “The way we do that will be through multiple strategies, but that’s the vision we want to work toward, and ideally, as quickly as we can.”
Darrin Polhemus of the State Water Board said small water systems pay more for their systems and supplies, have a lack of management and technical capacity, and are particularly hard hit by water contamination and shortages. He noted that “we have to change this whole paradigm” to help improve how small water systems operate.
The final panel brought key state officials to the stage to discuss the governor’s water resilience portfolio, now being developed to address the challenges of a more volatile climate. Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, said a top priority is to make it easier to help the environment and get multiple benefits out of water projects. “Permitting wetlands restoration is the exact same process as permitting a strip mall,” he said. “So while we’re threatened by climate change and our ecosystem is under unprecedented threat, state government makes it really expensive and slow to get [such projects] done.” He said his agency is committed to cutting “green tape” that slows ecosystem restoration projects.
Sounding a particularly hopeful note, Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said we have “an opportunity of a lifetime for farmers to step up and identify how they can be part of the solution to climate change.” She noted that farm practices can sequester carbon while also building resiliency to help farms weather droughts and floods.
We invite you to watch the videos from this event: