GUEST COMMENTARY: Integrated Regional Water Management – Helping Create a Balanced Portfolio for our Water Future

Guest commentary from the IRWM Roundtable of Regions:

Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) represents a construct for collaborative water resource management, holistically addressing the issues and differing perspectives of all entities involved in water management through mutually beneficial solutions.  The IRWM Program is managed by the Department of Water Resources, and implemented at regional and local scales state-wide.

Among the primary tenets of IRWM are increasing regional self-reliance and reducing conflict while concurrently aiming to achieve social, environmental and economic water objectives through stakeholder collaboration.  With 48 state-recognized IRWM Regions, IRWM planning currently covers approximately 87% of the State’s land area, and 99% of the population. The companion IRWM Grant Program has funded over 840 projects providing multiple benefits including improved water quality, better flood management, restored and enhanced ecosystems, and more reliable surface and groundwater supplies – all of which provide enhanced resiliency to climate change. IRWM has provided a high rate of return on these past investments; portfolio approaches implemented at the local level with cities, counties, water districts, community and environmental groups, Tribes, Disadvantaged Communities (DACs), and others represent an investment of almost four (4) times that of the state through local grant funding match and coordinated project planning (approximately $4.2 billion versus $1.3 billion). These investments are further supported at local and regional scales through projects developed and supported by IRWM group collaboration, and funded by other local, state, federal and private funding.

Those engaged in preparing and implementing Integrated Regional Water Management Plans in California have come together to form a voluntary forum, the Roundtable of Regions (Roundtable). The Roundtable was established in 2008 and today has 130 members spanning all 48 planning regions in the state. Roundtable members share information, support development by DWR of grant programs and guidelines and comment on broad statewide issues concerning IRWM.  The Roundtable recognizes the strength of ground-up local planning to address regional water needs, and recommends that the state draw from IRWM Regions successfully implementing IRWM. To assist with this process, the Roundtable is coordinating with the California Stormwater Quality Association (CASQA), the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) and other groups to express the benefits of integrated water resource planning and the existing IRWM structure.

There are two basic aspects of IRWM planning – first, an integrated, balanced approach to water resource management that seeks to break down jurisdictional and institutional barriers that can prevent multi-benefit and innovative approaches; second – a structure that enables the IRWM grant program to prioritize regional multi-benefit projects.  Indeed, the latter has created competitive challenges among IRWM Regions in many IRWM Funding Areas across the state. The Roundtable seeks to generate greater state-wide understanding of the benefits of a one-stop-shop for the project planning and integrated planning approach, apart from the companion grant program.  IRWM Plans must assess anticipated impacts from climate change on groundwater, surface water, natural resources, water supply resiliency and environmental justice, all of which are vital to an integrated water management approach.

ACWA’s IRWM Policy Principles (ACWA, July 2019)  and the Stakeholder Perspectives – Recommendations for Sustaining and Strengthening Integrated Regional Water Management (DWR, March 2017) provide further context on the importance of IRWM in California. Please visit the Roundtable and DWR IRWM websites for more information about the practice of IRWM in California.

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