CALIFORNIA WATER PLAN: The state’s integrated plan for water management

The California Water Plan is the state’s strategic roadmap for managing the state’s precious water resources equitably and sustainably. First developed in 1957, it has been continually updated to tackle the evolving issues and challenges of the day.

The latest update, expected mid-2024, will highlight sustainable water resource management, climate urgency, and the need to ensure that all Californians benefit from water planning and investments.  New for this update, the Plan will also include a chapter written by the Tribal Advisory Committee that will present the Tribal perspective and provide insights into how state and local entities can engage and collaborate with Tribes.

At the April meeting of the California Water Commission, Kamyar Guivetchi, Manager of DWR’s Division of Planning, gave the Commission an overview of the latest iteration of the Plan.

Integrated water management on the watershed scale

Over the years, the development of the California Water Plan has evolved to engage with other state agencies and sectors to develop an integrated water management plan.  The Plan’s many strategies and recommendations have been developed and informed by a core state agency team, a Tribal advisory committee, and a public advisory committee with over 40 representatives from many constituencies.  The Plan also integrates the Water Resilience Portfolio and the Water Supply Strategy, building on and advancing the Newsom administration’s water policies and investments.

The graphic on the slide is a flower diagram intended to represent the multiple water sectors.  “Historically and even today, we tend to operate in the outer periphery of those petals where there’s little or no overlap,” said Mr. Guivetchi.  “To really move toward a resilient and sustainable water system and systems throughout California, we have to find ways to get our water sectors to move toward the center of this flower where there’s maximum overlap.  To make that happen, we need big collaboration.  We need awesome agency alignment.  And we’re going to need the sectors to co-manage at the watershed scale and the groundwater basin aquifer scale.”

He noted that by getting multiple sectors to collaborate, solutions can be developed which are more durable and have multiple benefits.  In addition, when multiple agencies participate, funding can be pooled together to implement those multi-benefit projects.

Empowering regional collaborative efforts

The slide depicts a watershed from headwaters, down rivers, through groundwater, to outflow and illustrates the different vulnerabilities and challenges facing a watershed.  Often, many collaborative groups work in the watershed, as shown in the green ring, but many don’t work together sufficiently.  Mr. Guivetchi said we need the integrated regional water management groups, the groundwater sustainability agencies, the regional flood management agencies, the water quality collaboratives, and the ecosystem collaboratives all to work together to understand the vulnerability of their watershed and recognize how they can work together to be more effective at adaptation.

The outer circle shows the many state agencies and departments with responsibility and authority over different aspects of the watershed.  “We [the State], too, have to learn to align and be part of these watershed networks if they’re going to be successful,” said Mr. Guivetchi.  “Often what we hear in our public meetings is the frustration that it’s very difficult to know who to work with and how to work with the state government to get things done.  And often, it takes a lot of time, effort, and cost on the part of locals, so part of this watershed network approach is pointing back to ourselves and saying we [the State] have to be part of that solution.”

Including the Tribal voice

Mr. Guivetchi touted the success of the California Water Plan in engaging with Tribes over the years.  The effort began in 2009 with the development of a Tribal communication plan that detailed how agencies and others could best engage Tribes in water planning and management.  Since then, the Tribes have become an integral part of the process.  Several Tribal water summits have been held over the years, culminating this year with the 2023 Tribal water summit spanning three days with fourteen different breakout sessions on multiple topics.

“What’s unique about that is, fortunately, the water plan updates and the tribal water summits got joined at the hip in a good way,” said Mr. Guivetchi. “We’ve been cross-pollinating and learning from each other.  And all the Tribal summit proceedings have been supporting reference documents for the water plan updates.  And at the latest tribal water summit, the Tribal Advisory Committee floated a draft Tribal chapter for this water plan update for review and comment.  So the feedback from that will inform the Tribal chapter in this update of the water plan.”

Central themes of the update

Climate vulnerability and adaptation: We need a much deeper appreciation and awareness of how the water sectors are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and the potential strategies for adapting to those vulnerabilities.  The Plan update presents a technique called decision scaling that can be used to add risk probability to the climate assessment conversation.  The concept was part of a pilot project the Department conducted in the Merced basin, which assessed climate vulnerability and potential adaptation strategies with an analysis from the headwaters down through groundwater and outflow.  The results were compelling enough that DWR has funded similar work on all the other tributaries in the San Joaquin Valley.

Watershed resilience: Co-management is critical to developing water resilience for watersheds.  The USGS has designated between 40-50 watersheds which Mr. Guivetchi said would be the right scale for developing climate vulnerability assessments and adaptation strategies.

Equity in water management:  Mr. Guivetchi said we have to do a better job at overcoming inequities in the water community by improving access to planning processes and state and federal funding for water projects.  We also need to ensure that selected populations don’t bear all the impacts of projects.

Preview of chapters

Chapter One sets the context, introduces the three themes, and outlines how the Plan is organized.

Chapter Two details the current and future challenges and conditions, both statewide and regionally, and summarizes current conditions by sector, including water supplies and uses, water quality, flood management, natural ecosystems, land use, and forest and wildfire management.

Chapter Three describes the current state agency initiatives to improve climate resilience and advance equity, including the Water Resilience Portfolio and Water Supply Strategy, and discusses the importance of implementing both.

Chapter Four discusses the importance of watershed-scale climate vulnerability assessments, adaptation strategies, and resilience building.   It provides guidance and describes the resources to be provided by the State to support local collaborative watershed efforts.

Chapter Five focuses on equity and is intended to help folks understand what inequities have been there historically and today, where the vulnerable populations are, and how they are impacted.  The chapter builds current equity initiatives and includes a roadmap to overcome those inequities.

Chapter Six focuses on the strengths and resources of California Native American Tribes and is a first for the California Water Plan.  This chapter is written by the Tribal Advisory Committee and presents the Tribal perspective.  It includes recommendations on how state and local entities can effectively engage with tribes.

Chapter Seven outlines the Plan’s objectives, recommendations, and actions.  The California Water Plan has five objectives, sixteen recommendations, and numerous implementation actions.  However, it’s important to note that the California Water Plan is non-regulatory, meaning it does not mandate any actions or authorize spending for specific actions.  Rather, the Plan includes strategies and recommendations that state agencies, local agencies, and other entities can choose from to better manage water resources in their region.

Resource Management Strategies: The plan also has over 30 different water resource management strategies, shown on the slide.  These are documents written by subject matter experts that discuss specific strategies in detail and provide recommendations for implementation.   Ten strategies are being updated: Agricultural and urban water use efficiency, system reoperation, conjunctive management and groundwater storage, desalination, precipitation enhancement, recycled water, recharge area protection, and watershed management.

Schedule for completion

  • By July of this year, an administrative draft will be circulated amongst the state agencies and departments.
  • A public review draft is expected by mid-October. There will be an opportunity for public comment.
  • A final California Water Plan is expected in May of 2024.

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