Some springtime reading on California water

Jay R. Lund, Director, Center for Watershed Sciences and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California – Davis

Precipitation in California

Precipitation in California (map by J. Viers)

California is a wonderful place to study water.  So many interesting and important problems, thoughtful and insightful authors, and much to be learned.  Here is a selection of  readings (updated from a 2012 post) on California water.

  1. Division of Water Resources. 1930. State Water Plan 1930, Bulletin 25, Sacramento, CA: California Department of Public Works.  The most influential California water plan ever, 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 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.
  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  This book tries to integrate everything, looking forward and historically.  California Water Myths is a briefer 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. Hanak, E.,  A. Escriva-Bou, B. Gray, S. Green, T. Harter, J. Jezdimirovic, J. Lund, J. Medellín-Azuara, P. Moyle, and N. Seavy. 2019.  Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley, Public Policy Institute of California, San Francisco, CA, 100 pp.  A useful look at the future of water and the San Joaquin Valley with excellent technical appendices.
  9. 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.
  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. 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.
  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.

About jaylund

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Director, Center for Watershed Sciences University of California - Davis
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2 Responses to Some springtime reading on California water

  1. Steve Davison says:

    Great recommendations. I read Water and Power years ago and plan on tackling a couple on your list. Always look forward to reading this blog.

  2. Pingback: A Guide for New California Water Wonks | California WaterBlog

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