Latest Issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science Includes Overview of California’s Long-term Water Policy Challenges

The latest issue of the online journal San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science included an overview of California’s long-term water policy challenges and potential solutions that included insights from interviews with more than 100 California water policy experts.

Managing California’s Water: Insights from Interviews with Water Policy Experts” includes feedback from leading water policy analysts, researchers, politicians, lawyers and managers who answered open-ended questions regarding California’s long-term water policy challenges and potential solutions in the spring and summer of 2010.

Top long-term policy problems cited include management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, dysfunctional institutions and water governance, unsustainable water supplies and flood management, poor environmental protection, and problems with water rights and valuing water.

Unsustainable management of the Delta was the most commonly discussed water problem, with 57 percent of all respondents listing it among California’s top five water problems. Water supply reliability, ecosystem function, the condition of Delta levees, water quality, and governance structure were other commonly cited Delta problems.

Educating the public and policymakers was the most commonly offered recommendation for overcoming challenges facing water policy, mentioned by nearly half of all respondents who felt that “most Californians were poorly informed about where their water comes from-and its value, where wastewater goes, the importance of sustainable funding for water management and regulation, and declining water quality.”

Interview respondents thought that better educating the public about water problems could drive more informed policymaking. Their specific ideas on how to improve public water education were varied, ranging from emphasizing critical thinking in grade school, to holding county-level workshops, to developing coherent messages for water education (instead of the agendas of particular agencies or organizations).

Overall, the authors of the paper (Sarah E. Null, Eleanor Bartolomeo, Jay R. Lund, and Ellen Hanak) found broad agreement that important aspects of water policy are not working well-such as management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, management of the state’s groundwater resources, and administration of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“Despite differences in opinion on the problems with implementation of the ESA, there was broad agreement that environmental management approaches need to shift away from single-species, piecemeal approaches toward ecosystem-based, multi-species approaches,” the abstract indicated.

Experts agree that the Delta’s problems affect California as a whole in significant ways even if they do not agree on the details of solutions. Interview responders agree there is potential for compromise which addresses both economic and environmental concerns for this region.

“The views of the experts interviewed for this paper underscore where little consensus exists within and between groups that represent different water sectors or occupations, and where differences in beliefs may hinder decision making,” the paper revealed. “Understanding how water experts think may highlight similar groups that can collaborate, as well as groups with opposing views that must negotiate to resolve differences. Over time this type of information could improve learning, change beliefs of individuals, and ultimately foster policy change.”

Other articles in the latest issue of the online journal include:

To read the full issue of the SFEWS journal, click here.