California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a state water strategy to adapt and protect water supplies with the hopes of replenishing the water California will lose in the coming decades due to rising temperatures.
According to California Natural Resources Agency spokesperson Lisa Lien-Mager, the strategy contains four approaches: capturing, recycling, desalting and conserving water. The plan additionally aims to secure supplies for businesses and residents so they do not suffer disruptions in water supply and ensure the state’s agricultural economy “continues to thrive.”
“Collectively, the actions will help us adapt to a hotter, drier future and make up for the water supplies we can expect to lose as a greater share of the rain and snowfall we receive will be lost to evaporation and greater consumption,” Lien-Mager said in an email.
The strategy follows Newsom’s Water Resilience Portfolio, or WRP, which Lien-Mager said has guided state water policy since 2020.
Spiking temperatures and aridity during recent droughts send a climate signal Californians “must heed,” Lien-Mager said. The new water strategy doubles down on actions within the WRP as the state faces new and more extreme conditions that make clear the need to quickly secure water supplies, she added.
Despite this jump in government efforts, water management is not as simple as it appears, according to Michael Hanemann, campus professor emeritus in the department of agricultural and resource economics.
“The California constitution … outlaws water usage that is ‘not reasonable or beneficial,’ but throughout our history, water users have resisted state attempts to actively manage or control both surface and groundwater use,” Hanemann said. “In theory, the state government has authority, but the history of water use in California … has been a failure to exercise the authority.”
Hanemann said the state’s division of water management into hundreds of entities poses a problem, alleging the state does not control water storage, storm water and recycling beyond offering subsidies and incentives.
According to Hanemann, there may be multiple obstacles facing the strategy’s implementation, from the increased evaporation of water as global warming intensifies to the expensive nature of the strategy’s proposed solutions.
However, Hanemann expressed the strategy as an important first step and more ambitious in the scale and the range of activities than the state’s past actions.
“The question is whether you fix the house before it burns or after it burns; it’s a question of timing,” Hanemann said. “I have no doubt that if you come back 40 years from now, these things will have happened. Whether they would have happened too late or after a big disruption … that’s the question.”