Some springtime reading on California water

Jay R. Lund, Director, Center for Watershed Sciences and the Ray B. Krone Chair of Environmental Engineering, University of California – Davis

Precipitation in California

Precipitation in California

California is a wonderful place to study water, with so many interesting and important problems, many thoughtful and insightful authors, and much to be learned.  Here is a short selection of  readings on California water, although some readings are appropriately long.

  1. Division of Water Resources. 1930. State Water Plan 1930, Bulletin 25, Sacramento, CA: California Department of Public Works.  The most influential state water plan ever done for California, and mercifully short. Ironically, it was never implemented by the state, but became the basis for the federal Central Valley Project and California’s overall strategy for water management.  Expands on the 1919 Marshall Plan by a former USGS employee working from the University of California.
  2. Pisani, D. 1984. From the Family Farm to Agribusiness: The Irrigation Crusade in California, 1850–1931. Berkeley: University of California Press.  The best and most insightful history I have seen on California’s water supply system.  Sadly out of print.
  3. Kelley, R. 1998. Battling the Inland Sea. Berkeley: University of California Press.  Tremendously interesting and insightful history of the confluence of politics and flood management for the Sacramento Valley.  One of my favorite books on watManaging California's Waterer management overall.
  4. Hanak, E., J. Lund, A. Dinar, B. Gray, R. Howitt, J. Mount, P. Moyle, and B. Thompson (2011), Managing California’s Water:  From Conflict to Reconciliation, Public Policy Institute of California, San Francisco, CA, 500 pp.  Free pdf from or hard copy from  This book tries to do everything, looking forwards as well as historically.  We’ll see how well it ages.  California Water Myths is a short motivating pre-report for this work.
  5. Lund, J., E. Hanak, W. Fleenor, W. Bennett, R. Howitt, J. Mount, and P. Moyle (2010), Comparing Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.  A comprehensive non-stakeholder view of the Delta.  Based on earlier Delta reports produced by PPIC.
  6. Kahrl, W.L. 1983. Water and Power: The Conflict over Los Angeles Water Supply in the Owens Valley. Berkeley: University of California Press.   An insightful in-depth look at the development of Owens Valley for Los Angeles’ water supply.
  7. Arax, M. and R.Wartzman. 2005. The King Of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of A Secret American Empire, Public Affairs, A colorful history of water management in the Tulare basin, focusing on J.G. Boswell.
  8. Hundley, N., Jr. 2001. The Great Thirst. Californians and Water: A History. Berkeley: University of California Press.   A fine history of water in California, which unfortunately ends in 2001.
  9. Bain, J. S., R. E. Caves, and J. Margolis.  1966. Northern California’s Water Industry: The Comparative Efficiency of Public Enterprise in Developing a Scarce Natural Resource, Baltimore, MD: Resources for the Future, Johns Hopkins Press.  A tour-de-force of Northern California water management in the early 1960s looking forward to the development of the State Water Project.
  10. Jackson, W. T., and A. M. Paterson. 1977, The Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta and the Evolution and Implementation of Water Policy: An Historical Perspective, California Water Resources Center, Contribution No. 163, University of California, Davis.  The best middle history of the Delta, before the 1982 vote.
  11. Thompson J. 1957. Settlement Geography of the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, California. Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University.  Where the Delta came from in historical time.
  12. Orlob, G. T. 1991. “San Joaquin Salt Balance: Future Prospects and Possible Solutions.” In The Economics and Management of Water and Drainage in Agriculture, ed. A. Dinar and D. Zilberman (Boston, MA: Kluwer), 143–67.  No one has written a water quality history of California, but this would be an essential element of such a story.
  13. Vaux, H. J. 1986. “Water Scarcity and Gains from Trade in Kern County, California.” In Scarce Water and Institutional Change, ed. K. Frederick (Washington, DC: Resources for the Future), 67–101.  A wonderful paper on how local agricultural water and groundwater actually work.
  14. Walker, R. A., and M. J. Williams. 1982. “Water from Power: Water Supply and Regional Growth in the Santa Clara Valley.” Economic Geography 58(2): 95–119. An intriguing paper on how local urban water utilities have developed.

Special announcement: The UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences is looking for someone to work at the forefront of communications on water issues in California from a non-advocacy university perspective to “lead strategic planning, management, and implementation of the Center’s communications and outreach programs.”  The position description and (online only) application can be found by clicking:  There is so much to do, and we can use some help.

About jaylund

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Director, Center for Watershed Sciences University of California - Davis
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