Adapting California’s water management to climate change

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Hanak, Ellen and Lund, Jay
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California faces significant water management challenges from climate change, affecting water supply, aquatic ecosystems, and flood risks. Fortunately, the state also possesses adaptation tools and institutional capabilities that can limit vulnerability to changing conditions. Water supply managers have begun using underground storage, water transfers, conservation, recycling, and desalination to meet changing demands. These same tools are promising options for responding to a wide range of climate changes. Likewise, many staples of flood management—including reservoir operations, levees, bypasses, insurance, and land-use regulation—are available for the challenges of increased floods. Yet actions are also needed to improve response capacity. For water supply, a central issue is the management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where new conveyance, habitat investments, and regulations are needed to sustain water supplies and protect endangered fish species. For flood management, among the least-examined aspects of water management with climate change, needed reforms include forward-looking reservoir operation planning and floodplain mapping, less restrictive rules for raising local funds, and improved public information on flood risks. For water quality, an urgent priority is better science. Although local agencies are central players, adaptation will require strong-willed state leadership to shape institutions, incentives, and regulations capable of responding to change. Federal cooperation often will be essential.


Hanak, E., and J. Lund. 2012. Adapting California’s water management to climate change. Climatic Change 111:17–44. doi: 10.1007/s10584-011-0241-3.