Despite its mild climate and diverse natural landscapes and wildlife, California encounters significant problems in terms of water availability for all its inhabitants. As such, the state suffers from water-related extremes (Sprague and Prenger-Berninghoff 19). On the one hand, the occasional droughts pose a threat to the agricultural industry and the well-being of people, especially in the vulnerable rural areas in Southern California. On the contrary, one in five Californian lives in the floodplains, which implies that as much as $580 billion in assets are at risk of destruction or damage (DWR, “California Water Plan Update 2018” ES-1). In this regard, the amount of precipitation is explained by La Niña and El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomena (Sprague and Prenger-Berninghoff 19). The former – La Niña – is associated with reduced precipitation levels and drought, whereas the latter – El Niño – results in increased rainfall and flooding. Moreover, the problems mentioned above are aggravated by active climate change. Therefore, to address those issues, California authorities have always needed clear and concise policy plans.
The first attempts to elaborate programs that would seek to improve the drought and flooding problems in the state were made during the 19th century. According to DWR (“California Water Plan”), the first policy that planned the water distribution in the region was presented in 1873. However, the first serious intention to control, protect, preserve, and distribute the water resources for the sake of the current and future generations was made in 1957 and known as Bulletin 3 (DWR). The design and idea of the latter document served as the template for the modern-time program, which is dubbed the California Water Plan. The document is revised every five years (the last being in 2018), providing an analysis of the current condition and up-to-date recommendations. In 2023, DWR is planning to issue the updated version of the plan; it is necessary to analyze what factors can ensure the successful implication of the project in practice.
According to new research by Quinn, it the evolving into a forum for steering discussions and assisting with water decision-making across the state. The Water Plan team has changed and pioneered breakthroughs during the previous years. In that connection, state agencies such as California Department of Conservation, California Department of Water Resources, and Coastal Commission, stakeholders, and tribes have been invited to participate in the plan’s development as well. They’ve sought to make the data technique and assumptions underlying the plan more apparent. They wished to widen the scope of the water strategy to encompass several industries while also promoting sustainability and resilience. A strategy for enhancing data analysis and research is also included in the water plan.
More so, the water code standards are merely a starting point for the framework of the California water plan update. According to Resilience Portfolio’s key guiding principles (Li and Lence), the significance of regional watershed techniques, and the role of governmental help and monitoring to empower and succeed those regions (Quinn). Another notion is that investments, policies, and programs from the state government should be better integrated. Stakeholders contribute to the plan as well.
The Management of Complex System
In general, water management in California reflects the example of the administration of over-complicated geographical systems. It suggests that there are several agents involved in the realization of the projects, there is no centralized authority, and the interaction between the stakeholders occurs on various levels (Meek and Marshal 1094). In this respect, Meek and Marshal investigated how this system is beneficial in creating resilience toward shocks like as catastrophic droughts (1101). The authors stated that the complex settings have the potential to effectively self-monitor their adaptive capacities and learn how to improve the latter (Meek and Marshal 1101). Ulibarri and Escobedo Garcia’s point of view is that, without a centralized authority at the watershed level, governance in the watersheds looks nothing like “watershed management.” A huge number of actors was predicted in each watershed, but their actions, even when pooled, did not map to the watershed. Coordination between participants did not revolve around the watershed’s boundaries, as we found little coordination between the upper and lower basins (Ulibarri and Escobedo Garcia 766). Actors in the headwaters conversed with those in the valley, but there was never any evidence of coordination across this barrier (or even written admission that they were part of the same system) (or even written acknowledgment that they were part of the same system).
Indeed, in California, the responsibility for water control and distribution is divided between various agencies and state, municipal, and local governments. The major water system infrastructure operators include the Bureau of Reclamation, DWR, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to name a few (Sprague and Prenger-Berninghoff 23). Therefore, it can be concluded that the relative success of such initiatives as the California Water Plan is explained by the truth of the matter that this project exists in the space of complex relationships between various actors.
To manage watersheds effectively, it would be necessary to establish connections between the headwaters and the lower watershed. The corpus of informal suggests the difficulty of achieving watershed-based management. Given the distinctive characteristics of actors, water supplies, and constraints in each watershed, adopting a watershed-scale perspective would entail very different institutional reforms in each of the four watersheds (Ulibarri and Escobedo Garcia 766).
Collaboration Between the Stakeholders
However, the biggest factor that largely determines the success of the previous attempts to control, protect, preserve, and distribute the water resources is the active collaboration between various stakeholders. In this regard, Quinn argues that it is crucial to keep all the stakeholders involved with the problem (11). One of the methods how to achieve that is to maintain timely and competent communication between actors. For instance, one of the agents that should be constantly reminded of the importance of being mindful about water use is the general public. As for California, Liang et al. that decision-makers use various types of messages to convince residents to control their water usage (541). They include messages that provide direct action tips and evidence of drought and apply loss aversion, social identity, comparisons, and norms, and direct requests strategies to convince people (Liang et al. 543). As a result, such an approach would ensure that the society as a whole (in this case) cooperates in achieving the sustainability goal.
Aakhus and Bzdak suggest that extra time is required for participation. Even with a small group, creating a management plan or a regional evaluation takes time, let alone with a large group of stakeholders (Aakhus and Bzdak 189). For many agencies such as those involved in the California water plan, incorporating more individuals into such a process may look impractical or foolish, especially in the face of constrained budgets. However, delays due to lawsuits, demonstrations, rival efforts, or a lack of on-the-ground compliance may result in a much longer wait for local agencies that have not incorporated stakeholders in the process according to Aakhus and Bzdak. Aside from the financial and time commitment, plan agencies attempting to maintain order and control may find it difficult or paradoxical to open up a decision-making process.
According to Aldhous, certain stakeholders may be difficult to locate, while others may be tough to deal with. Simply agreeing on the issues to address or the goals to accomplish when voices, priorities, and needs are added can be difficult, let alone figuring out how the group will accomplish these goals (Aldhous 12). Nonetheless, without appropriate participation of the plan’s different interests, resistance and conflict are likely to be far higher at all phases of planning and execution.
The Changing Future
As the 21st century is characterized by active climate change, substantial economic development, and fast innovations in technology, the California Water Plan Update 2023 should consider all these factors in the report. As for the former, it is especially important to consider the actions that would be necessary, for instance, in case the Los Angeles weather migrates to San Francisco (Zilberman and Gordon 11). Additionally, it is important to consider that growing urbanization and economic development are associated with greater water consumption (Zilberman and Gordon 11). Finally, the plan should evaluate the newest technologies that may be applied in the sphere of water control, conservation, and distribution.
In research by Roy and others, climate change complicates and raises uncertainties about future environmental implications. For example, rising temperatures are drawing invasive species to formerly uninhabited streams. This continues to be a critical issue in the California Water Plan as state experts try to find the best way to include a changing climate into watershed management planning, including flood planning caused by sea-level rise, peak flow fluctuations, and a diminished snowpack.
Each of these strains has already been identified. For example, average temperatures in California have gradually increased over the previous four decades (“Climate Change Adaptation in the Water Sector”). Warming has several subtle and intertwined effects, including reduced snowfall, greater snowmelt and, winter runoff, higher water temperatures, and exacerbated droughts and floods. Droughts that are more severe and last for a longer period than the ones that afflicted California from 2012 to 2016, exert an additional strain on groundwater reserves (Ballester). Warmer, more intense storms put additional demand on surface reservoirs, affecting the often contradictory goals of saving water for droughts, protecting people from severe floods, and protecting freshwater ecosystems (“Climate Change Adaptation in the Water Sector”). Droughts and floods are expected to worsen significantly over the next 20–50 years, with potentially severe consequences.
Regarding Climate Change Adaptation in the Water Sector research, improving water conveyance infrastructure will be required to increase groundwater storage in the California water plan. Such investments will make it easier to trade and distribute water, which is a crucial way to mitigate the social, economic, and environmental consequences of water scarcity. The Oroville Dam disaster in 2017 emphasized the critical need to improve dam safety to protect downstream people from greater storms (Hollins et al. 49).
The plan, if budgets permit, has the potential to accomplish a great deal in protecting Californians from pollution, modernizing water data systems, and presenting a cohesive bid for federal financing but a Pacific Institute analysis concluded that “there are still gaps which should be addressed.” Roy et al. assert that the plan could improve on five points: prioritizing efforts with multiple benefits, engaging in Colorado River discussions, including the business community more in water decisions, doing even more for the Salton Sea, and advancing stormwater collection projects.
The analysis above revealed several spheres that should be considered by the California Water Plan Update 2023. In this regard, according to the previous research, the document must acknowledge the diversity of agents, possibilities, and opinions. Such an approach would allow gaining critical perspectives and expertise during the plan designing stage and aligning the interests of various parties. Therefore, to effectively design the new version of the California Water Plan and successfully achieve the project recommendations in practice, DWR should ensure the effective collaboration of all the involved stakeholders.
More so, stakeholder efforts to develop and execute programmatic approaches to restoration project permitting should be supported by DWR and other State agencies. The goal of this initiative is to make it easier and faster to complete the crucial habitat restoration of the California water plan project in the state (Aldhous 12). Stakeholders in the water community are encouraged to look for new funding options to help support long-term state and local/regional sustainability (Aldhous 12). Foundations, academia, government agencies, the Legislature, nonprofit organizations, and others should investigate ways to build on existing financing structures as well as create new ones.
Every Californian has a stake in the state’s water future. These efforts will help California’s water become more dependable, restored, and resilient. California’s leadership in resource management, as well as its economic and environmental resilience and dependability, will be required to meet this “new normal.” When it comes to “solving the problem,” there are no silver bullets or one-size-fits-all answers (Martins et al. 760). We need a portfolio of actions to fully address the problems that this state is facing. To address current dangers, such as the impending drought and a lack of safe drinking water, some immediate actions are required. Furthermore, over the years to come, we must confront important changes in our approach to water resource management and be ready for future developments.
Liang, Yuhua, Lauren K. Henderson, and Kerk F. Kee. “Running Out of Water! Developing a Message Typology and Evaluating Message Effects on Attitude toward Water Conservation.” Environmental Communication, vol. 12, no. 4, 2018, pp. 541-557.
Martins, Lisa, et al. “A New Framework for the Management and Radiological Protection of Groundwater Resources: The Implementation of a Portuguese Action Plan for Radon in Drinking Water and Impacts on Human Health.” Water, vol. 11, no. 4, 2019, p. 760. Crossref,
Meek, Jack W., and Kevin S. Marshall. “Cultivating Resiliency through System Shock: The Southern California Metropolitan Water Management System as a Complex Adaptive System.” Public Management Review, vol. 20, no. 7, 2018, pp. 1088-1104.
Quinn, Timothy. “Forty Years of California Water Policy: What Worked, What Didn’t and Lessons for the Future.” Stanford: Water in the West, 2019.
Quinn, Timothy. “Policy Note: Changing Directions in California Water Policy: The Role of Public Policy Analysis.” Water Economics and Policy, vol. 01, no. 02, 2015, p. 1571001. Crossref.
Sprague, Teresa, and Kathrin Prenger-Berninghoff. Building Resilience and Planning for Extreme Water-Related Events. Palgrave Pivot, 2019.
The California Department of Water Resources [DWR]. “California Water Plan Update 2018: Managing Water Resources for Sustainability.” Department of Water Resources, 2019.
Ulibarri, Nicola, and Nataly Escobedo Garcia. “Comparing Complexity in Watershed Governance: The Case of California.” Water, vol. 12, no. 3, 2020, p. 766. Crossref.
Zilberman, David, and Ben Gordon. “California Water: The Present and Looking to the Future.” Western Economics Forum, vol. 16, no. 1. 2018, pp. 6-12.