REPORTS: Concurrent governance processes of SGMA; Comparing complexity in watershed governance; Challenges of using and interpreting GPCD

Concurrent Governance Processes of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

By Anita Milman and Michael Kiparsky

California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is a landmark policy that requires achievement of sustainability at the groundwater basin level.

In this policy review and analysis, we describe the horizontal, vertical, and network governance processes occurring under SGMA and discuss how they interact with one another. In doing so,we review existing governance theories that can help to shed light on how each governance process may unfold. Depicting SGMA as a complex system of simultaneous and interacting governance processes provides a useful platform for future evaluations of SGMA successes and failures as well as for transferring lessons learned from California’s implementation of SGMA to groundwater governance in other locations.

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Comparing Complexity in Watershed Governance: The Case of California

by Nicola Ulibarri and Nataly Escobedo Garcia

Environmental governance scholars argue that optimal environmental performance can be achieved by matching the scale of governance to the scale of the resource being managed. In the case of water, this means managing at the scale of the watershed. However, many watersheds lack a single watershed-scale organization with authority over all water resources and instead rely on cross-jurisdiction coordination or collaboration among diverse organizations.

To understand what “watershed governance” looks like fully, this paper maps organizations with rights to use, regulate, or manage water in four subwatersheds in California (the American, Cosumnes, and Kings Rivers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin watershed and the Shasta River in the Klamath watershed). We assemble datasets of water organizations, water rights holders, and water management plans and use content analysis and social network analysis to explore what water management looks like in the absence of a single basin authority. We describe the institutional complexity that exists in each watershed, compare the physical and institutional interconnections between actors in the watersheds, and then ask to what extent these connections map onto watershed boundaries. We find that the ways in which water management is complex takes very different forms across the four watersheds, despite their being located in a similar political, social, and geographic context.

Each watershed has drastically different numbers of actors and uses a very different mix of water sources. We also see very different levels of coordination between actors in each watershed. Given these differences, we then discuss how the institutional reforms needed to create watershed-scale management are unique for each watershed. By building a stronger comparative understanding of what watershed governance actually entails, this work aims to build more thoughtful recommendations for building institutional fit.

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Uses of GPCD: Challenges in Calculation and Interpretation

From the California Water Data Collective:

Per capita water use is a de facto industry standard for tracking water use. The most widely recognized metric is gallons per capita per day (GPCD). GPCD is increasingly prominent in California as a measure of water use and water use efficiency. GPCD has become the unit of measurement used in conservation standards. As a concept, GPCD can be expressed in a simple formula with relatable terms. However, it is not as straightforward as it appears to be.

GPCD is sensitive to factors such as demographic pressure, weather conditions, the economy, and consumer response to drought-related restrictions. These factors vary from place to place and change over time, even for the same place. Even if all such variables are recognized and accounted for, the method by which GPCD is calculated should also be consistent for any comparisons to be valid.

In certain cases, meaningful comparisons over longer time scales are difficult to achieve even within the same water agency. Particular caution is advised when making normative interpretations of GPCD trends when transitioning between drought and non-drought time periods. Even more questions should be raised when comparisons between different water agencies are made.

This paper identifies some of the inherent difficulties and common pitfalls with using GPCD as a measure of water use. The inclination to rely on GPCD in this respect should be balanced with a general understanding of its limitations and nuances. The rest of this paper will describe these caveats for broader consideration.

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