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Summary

Water management in California has always been challenging. The state’s variable climate is marked by long droughts and severe floods, with stark regional differences in water availability and demand. California’s “water grid”—the network of surface and groundwater storage and conveyance systems that connects most water use in the state—was designed to move water to population and farming centers in the Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California, while also protecting residents from floods.

As the state has changed, its water challenges have intensified. The Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta is an increasingly fragile link in the water grid. California’s extensive network of dams is aging. Agricultural demand is becoming less flexible, as farmers increase tree crops (especially nuts), which must be watered every year. Some poor—mostly rural— communities lack safe drinking water. Conflicts are growing between human water use and water needed for fish and other wildlife. And the latest cycle of droughts and floods highlights the growing threat of climate change.

Climate pressures are making it harder to simultaneously store water for droughts, manage flood risk, and protect fresh­water ecosystems. But leaders across the state are addressing the challenges of a more volatile climate, and the Newsom administration is developing a water resilience portfolio to adapt all aspects of water management to the “new normal.”


This publication is part of a briefing kit that highlights our state’s most pressing long-term policy challenges in 11 key areas:

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the PPIC Corporate Circle and the PPIC Donor Circle.

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