A Guide for New California Water Wonks

by Jay Lund

Water is a universal foundation for every problem and opportunity in California.  Most people use it every day, yet even experts with decades of experience don’t know it all.   (Alas, too many advocates and pundits almost don’t know it at all.)  Welcome!

Immense numbers of books and articles have been written on California water.  Here is a selection of some readings and websites useful for folks who want to become California water wonks as serious journalists, students, agency and NGO leaders or workers, consultants new to the area, professors and instructors, or just obsessed members of the public. 

Bon appétit!  

Some General Readings on California Water

The Dreamt Land (2019) by Mark Arax is probably the best single overall work on California water.  It is a wonderful well-written human history with a great deal of context and science woven in.  It was reviewed in CaliforniaWaterBlog.

A list of 14 good wonk-producing readings is at Some springtime reading on California water (2019).  The list is annotated to help you get started.

For folks who want go get deeper into some interesting historical documents, here is another list – Old Readings on California Water (2020).  Oldies but goodies. There are few truly new water ideas in California.

The best 4-pages on California water is probably Joan Didion’s (1977), “Holy Water,” in her book, The White Album (1979). 

Water in the News Websites and Listserves

To keep up-to-date and become regularly exposed to a wealth of details and ideas, there are some good websites and listserves:

Maven’s notebook (The Best single site for aggregation, dissemination, and interpretation!)

DWR’s Water News compilations

Brown & Caldwell WaterNews compilations

Water Education Foundation (tours, events, compilations, public information publications, etc.)

CaliforniaWaterBlog (weekly water essays and findings from UC Davis)

Data and Graphics Websites for California Water Wonks

Many websites present interesting and useful data on water in California, for those who like to follow our floods, droughts, and storms.  Here are a few on some common topics.  The time you take to explore these is worthwhile.  (True wonks will download some data for their own analyses.)

River and Flood Forecasts from California -Nevada River Forecasting Center (CNRFC) https://www.cnrfc.noaa.gov/index.php

Precipitation (California Department of Water Resources, CDEC)  

Lots of good charts and options here, for all except southern California: https://cdec.water.ca.gov/reportapp/javareports?name=PLOT_ESI.pdf

Nice depictions of precipitation forecasts for all west coast – https://cw3e.ucsd.edu/DSMaps/DS_watershed.html

Snowpack – How much snow is in the mountains for different parts of California relative to earlier years.

Reservoir levels – Take some time to explore this these. https://cdec.water.ca.gov/reportapp/javareports?name=RES

A newer, pretty neat depiction: https://engaging-data.com/ca-reservoir-dashboard/

US Army Corps of Engineers California flood operations See how some of the major reservoirs are being operated as storms come and go, and in preparation and operation for snowmelt.  https://www.spk-wc.usace.army.mil/plots/california.html

Groundwater Live (California Department of Water Resources) – The best California groundwater site that I’m aware of.  https://sgma.water.ca.gov/CalGWLive/

California and the World needs more and better water wonks! Go play in the water.

Jay Lund is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Vice Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California – Davis.  He likes to read and mess around with numbers.

About jaylund

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Director, Center for Watershed Sciences University of California - Davis
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5 Responses to A Guide for New California Water Wonks

  1. Linda Bell says:

    Thank you once again for all the information you provide.

  2. Typically timely and interesting. And a most useful resource for new water wonks like my water law students. Thanks, Jay!

  3. Rachael Long says:

    Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner for overall western water.

  4. Mike Hardesty says:

    Nice job Jay

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