by Jay Lund
The 1957 California Water Plan was ambitious for its time, and successful in its own way for a time. This plan was the ultimate major water project development plan arising from a century of struggles to orient and organize a society transplanted from the humid eastern US to California’s highly variable Mediterranean climate – a poor society experiencing abrupt climate change due to relocation.
The direction of water planning in California changed decades ago. Following the 1976-77 drought, the environmental, engineering, and economic limits of State planning became increasingly apparent to local water agencies and users. Local and regional water planning and investments have grown in importance and sophistication, and few areas realistically seek major new water supplies from the state (although they do seek state funding). State water plans have wandered and diminished in content, while growing in volume over this period. (In contrast, state flood planning has improved markedly, as federal flood roles have diminished.)
In recent years, California Governors have sponsored a parallel, but more focused and nimble, State water planning effort. Governor Brown’s administration established a California Water Action Plan, which established state policy initiatives with a fairly precise list of state agency actions in about 30 pages. A breadth of fresh air which was useful in bringing together the State’s widely flung water-related agencies and programs.
Governor Newsom’s administration recently released a draft Water Resilience Portfolio plan, of slightly greater length (if you chop off the ponderous appendix 3). This plan also emphasizes diverse relatively precise policy initiatives for state agencies, often in support of local and regional water problem-solving and with some aspirations to bring state agencies together. It is a good read, clearly reflecting intense and diverse discussions over several months.
Among the plan’s many important and useful proposals, Proposal 28.2 seems especially timely: “Broaden the impact of the California Water Plan, required every five years by law, by increasing alignment and coordination between contributing state agencies. Assess progress toward regional water resilience in Water Plan updates. Inventory recurring state-published water-related plans and assess whether each should be continued, modified, consolidated, or discontinued.”
Effective water management is fundamental to the public health, economic prosperity, environment, and social well-being of Californians. How to modernize planning for water’s many changing roles in California’s now-richer dynamic economy, diverse society and governmental structure, and struggling ecosystems, with a highly variable and changing climate is an important topic for policy discussion.
California Department of Water Resources, California Water Plan, 1957. Now buried on the DWR web site at: https://water.ca.gov/LegacyFiles/waterplan/docs/previous/californiawaterp03cali.pdf
California Department of Water Resources, Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, 2012. A very useful recent state plan now buried on the DWR web site at: https://water.ca.gov/LegacyFiles/cvfmp/docs/CVFPPAttVol4_20120307.pdf
California Resources Agency, California Water Action Plan, 2014.
California Resources Agency, Draft Water Resilience Portfolio, 2020.
Lund, J. (2012), “Can solid flood planning improve all California water planning?,” March 27, 2012
Jay Lund is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Davis.