California’s historic 2012–2016 drought brought into sharp focus the increasing importance and complexity of water allocation decisions and the need for more integrative planning and policy solutions.
Our research seeks to analyze and provide guidance for improving how water is allocated among competing uses and users in California in the context of interannual water supply variability and the increasing frequency of extreme precipitation events expected with continued climate change.
California droughts are likely to become more frequent, longer, and more intense in the future, posing increasing challenges for water management, and raising the stakes for effective drought response. Past droughts have stress tested California’s water management institutions, revealing vulnerabilities that could impair effective adaptation to climate change. The State Water Resources Control Board (Board) is a key water decision maker whose actions affect how scarce water resources are allocated among different human and environmental uses during droughts. In a pair of reports published as part of California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, we examine how the Board has carried out its water rights responsibilities during past droughts and offer recommendations for improving the agency’s future drought response.
With California’s drought risk, flood risk, and demand for water all increasing, effective monitoring is more important than ever to water decision making. Stream gages monitor the most basic vital sign of California’s waterways—stream flow. Stream flow data support day-to-day decisions about how to manage water and operate water infrastructure—decisions that have important implications for flood control and the water supplies upon which residential, industrial, agricultural, and environmental water users depend.
California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), passed in 2014, recognizes and addresses connections between surface water and groundwater. The statute is California’s first statewide law to explicitly reflect the fact that surface water and groundwater are frequently interconnected and that groundwater management can impact groundwater-dependent ecosystems, surface water flows, and the beneficial uses of those flows. As such, SGMA partially remedies the historically problematic practice of treating groundwater and surface water as legally distinct resources.
Our comments on the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) draft resolution on climate change largely commend SWRCB for their timely effort to address both mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to the effects of climate change. We also recommended additional actions, including: explicitly addressing the energy intensity of different sources of water, considering potential for GHG emissions reductions in wastewater treatment, explicitly addressing flow requirements, and specifically addressing the disproportionate impact of climate change on disadvantaged communities.
Almost 20 years after the State Water Resources Control Board’s landmark decision on Mono Lake (D-1631), its implications remain unresolved, both for Mono Lake and its tributaries and for the broader actions of the State Board in considering the public trust doctrine in new and existing water rights. We organized a symposium to move towards solutions for incorporating the public trust into new and existing water rights.
We are conducting research to learn from the catastrophe of California’s 2014 drought to inform future allocation decisions and policy reform proposals. Our work on this area is multi-faceted and ongoing, but one particular interest is developing the capacity of water rights systems to respond more effectively to water shortage.
As adaptation becomes more tightly integrated into the range of responses to climate change, understanding how knowledge of climate change impacts and vulnerabilities can be effectively used is essential both to direct research and to support action. This article reviews literature along an intellectual transect from knowledge of climate impacts on water systems to the influence of that knowledge on adaptation responses.