Our 2020 Water Leaders class
completed its year with a report outlining policy recommendations
for adapting California water management to climate change.
The class of
23 up-and-coming leaders from various
stakeholder groups and backgrounds – engineers, attorneys,
planners, farmers, environmentalists and scientists - had
full editorial control to choose recommendations.
Winter weather is finally arriving in Northern California. And
after weeks of dry, warm conditions and growing drought
concerns, it’s coming in hard. Forecasters say a sizable storm
— the first significant atmospheric river event to hit the
greater Bay Area this winter season and likely the biggest
storm in at least 12 months — will soak much of California
starting Tuesday night, continuing Wednesday, and bringing wet
roads, downed trees, power outages and the possibility of
As wildfires, heat waves, water scarcity and threats to
wildlife intensify in the West, California’s effort to confront
these environmental crises now has support in Washington, a
stark change from the past four years. Even as former President
Donald Trump spent his final days in office on the sidelines,
lamenting his election loss, his administration continued to
roll back environmental conservation and gut climate
The dry 2020 and the lack of snow this season has water
managers in seven states preparing for the first time for
cutbacks outlined in drought contingency plans drafted two
years ago. A sobering forecast released this week by the
Bureau of Reclamation shows the federally owned Lake Mead and
Lake Powell — the nation’s two largest reservoirs and critical
storage for Colorado River water and its 40 million users —
dipping near-record-low levels.
California water issues are notoriously complicated by a
massive diversity of users, ecosystems, applications and
futures. Indeed, water in the Delta has been described as
a “wicked problem” indicating that these problems cannot
be ignored and defy straightforward characterization and
solutions. Below we highlight how a Swiss cheese model might be
applied to vexing long-term declines in native fish populations
Wetlands are among the most important ecosystems in the world.
They produce high levels of oxygen, filter toxic chemicals out of
water, sequester carbon, reduce flooding and erosion, recharge
groundwater and provide a
diverse range of recreational opportunities from fishing and
hunting to photography. They also serve as critical habitat for
wildlife, including a large percentage of plants and animals on
California’s endangered species
As part of the historic Colorado River Delta, the Salton Sea
regularly filled and dried for thousands of years due to its
elevation of 237 feet below sea level.
The most recent version of the Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when
the Colorado River broke
through a series of dikes and flooded the seabed for two years,
creating California’s largest inland body of water. The
Salton Sea, which is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, includes 130
miles of shoreline and is larger than Lake Tahoe.
Drought— an extended period of
limited or no precipitation— is a fact of life in California and
the West, with water resources following boom and-bust patterns.
During California’s most recent drought, from 2012–2016, much of
the state experienced severe drought conditions – significantly
less precipitation and snowpack, reduced streamflow and higher
No portion of the West has been immune to drought during the last
century and drought occurs with much greater frequency in the
West than in any other regions of the country.