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Building Drought Resilience in California’s Cities and Suburbs

By David Mitchell, Ellen Hanak, Ken Baerenklau, Alvar Escriva-Bou ...

California’s urban water suppliers have become increasingly adept at drought management thanks to investments in diverse supplies, cooperative efforts with neighbors, and programs to manage water demand. But in the face of extreme hot and dry conditions, questions arose over preparedness for ongoing drought, and the state took the unprecedented step of ordering mandatory water conservation in 2015. This report looks at evolving state and local roles in managing urban water supply during drought, and lessons to help us better prepare for droughts of the future.

This research was supported with funding from California Water Service, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and the US Environmental Protection Agency.


PPIC Water Policy Center

The PPIC Water Policy Center spurs innovative water management solutions that support a healthy economy, environment, and society—now and for future generations.

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Banking on Groundwater

By Lori Pottinger

An expert interview on efforts to recharge California’s depleted groundwater basins to help bring them back into balance.

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Implementing California’s Groundwater Law

By Jelena Jezdimirovic, Stephen Maples

What will it take to successfully manage groundwater in California’s Central Valley? Key takeaways from a joint workshop by UC Water and the PPIC Water Policy Center.

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Safeguarding Groundwater for a Drier Future

By Ellen Hanak

Groundwater overuse is causing water tables to fall in many parts of the globe, including California. Ten experts weigh in on how to address it.


What If California’s Drought Continues?

By Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, Jeffrey Mount, Peter Moyle ...

California is in the fourth year of a severe, hot drought—the kind that is increasingly likely as the climate warms. Although no sector has been untouched, impacts so far have varied greatly, reflecting different levels of drought preparedness. Urban areas are in the best shape, thanks to sustained investments in diversified water portfolios and conservation. Farmers are more vulnerable, but they are also adapting. The greatest vulnerabilities are in some low-income rural communities where wells are running dry and in California’s wetlands, rivers, and forests, where the state’s iconic biodiversity is under extreme threat. Two to three more years of drought will increase challenges in all areas and require continued—and likely increasingly difficult—adaptations. Emergency programs will need to be significantly expanded to get drinking water to rural residents and to prevent major losses of waterbirds and extinctions of numerous native fish species, including most salmon runs. California also needs to start a longer-term effort to build drought resilience in the most vulnerable areas.

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Experts Weigh In on Drought Solutions

By Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund

The Los Angeles Times published nine bite-sized opinion pieces on solutions to help California better manage droughts. Ellen Hanak and Jay Lund focused on strategic investments in water storage and water accounting systems.


Policy Priorities for Managing Drought

By Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, Jeffrey Mount, Peter Moyle ...

State, federal, and local water managers have worked diligently to reduce the economic, social, and environmental harm from the current drought. But as the drought continues, the challenges will grow more acute. California can learn from experiences to date—and from Australia’s response to its Millennium Drought—to better prepare both for the year ahead and for future droughts. State leaders should address weaknesses in four areas of drought preparation and response, by: 1) improving water use information, 2) setting clear goals and priorities for public health and the environment, 3) promoting water conservation and more resilient water supplies, and 4) strengthening environmental management.

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