California Continues Progress to Boost Water Supplies and Build Resilience Amid Extreme Weather

Progress reports on state’s Water Supply Strategy and Water Resilience Portfolio highlight state actions to bolster water supplies through more storage, recycling, desalination, conservation and more

More than $8.6 billion committed by Governor Newsom and the Legislature over the last three years to build water resilience

SACRAMENTO – Amid extreme weather conditions this past year, the state has made important progress to secure water supplies now and into the future, leveraging more than $8.6 billion committed by Governor Newsom and the Legislature in the last two budget cycles to build water resilience.

new progress report on California’s Water Supply Strategy, which was released last year, details key actions taken by state agencies to expand and expedite water storage, recycling, desalination and conservation to bolster water supplies throughout the state.

What Governor Newsom said: “From devastating drought to record flooding, the weather extremes we experienced in California this past year make clear the urgent need to keep adapting our water systems for increasingly unpredictable conditions. The state has made important strides to meet these challenges, and we’ll continue advancing our all-of-the-above strategy to optimize how we capture, store and use water in this new climate reality.”

The Water Supply Strategy priorities complement the state’s Water Resilience Portfolio, a broader policy roadmap developed in 2020 to ensure the state’s long-term water resilience and ecosystem health through a diverse set of actions. A new progress report on the Portfolio’s four broad approaches – maintaining and diversifying water supplies, protecting and enhancing natural systems, building connections, and preparedness – can be found here.

Highlights from the one-year Water Supply Strategy progress report include:

Expanding Water Storage Capacity

Maximizing groundwater recharge: California permitted and funded an estimated 3.8 million acre-feet of groundwater recharge capacity this winter and spring, much of it thanks to the State Water Resources Control Board’s temporary, streamlined permitting processes directed under the Governor’s executive orders.

  • The Department of Water Resources (DWR) helped local districts secure temporary pumps to increase the diversion of floodwater, and launched a “rip and chip” program to help irrigation districts remove orchards and vines in order to facilitate recharge.
  • In under five months, the State Water Board processed 12 recharge permits and petitions that authorized more than 1.2 million acre-feet in storage. In January, the Water Board granted its first five-year temporary recharge permit.
  • The Governor signed legislation clarifying legal and regulatory requirements to maximize appropriate diversion of floodwater to benefit groundwater recharge.

Advancing Proposition 1 storage projects:

  • This June, the Water Commission approved $277.5 million for the Harvest Water Project, the first project to receive a final funding award under Proposition 1.
  • The Natural Resources Agency established an interagency strike team to facilitate permitting of Prop. 1 storage projects.
  • Governor Newsom signed legislation to accelerate judicial review for water storage projects without reducing the environmental and government transparency benefits of CEQA.

Rehabilitating dams: The 2023-24 state budget includes $100 million for grants to assist dam owners in making repairs that will improve public safety and regain storage capacity. They also enable DWR to expedite the funding awards by administering the grant program with guidelines rather than regulations.

The San Luis Reservoir Expansion Project: Project continues to make progress, with design expected to begin late this year. The federal government has committed $85 million to the project to date and an addendum to the project’s prior feasibility report was recently completed.

Reducing Demand

Stabilizing groundwater supplies:

  • DWR awarded $340 million in assistance to 51 local groundwater sustainability agencies in 2022 and 2023 for planning and projects, and continues to assist local agencies with data and guidance.
  • The LandFlex Program awarded $17 million to several San Joaquin Valley groundwater sustainability agencies this July, which will be distributed to local growers to transition to sustainable groundwater use and protect drinking water supplies.
  • The Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program this June awarded $35 million to increase regional capacity to repurpose agricultural land, reducing reliance on groundwater. The program last year awarded $40 million for locally-led land repurposing plans.
  • The past two state budgets authorized $120 million for a grant program at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to improve agricultural irrigation efficiency, and $15 million for CDFA’s Water Efficiency Technical Assistance grant program.

Making conservation a way of life: The 2022-23 state budget included $75 million over two budget years for a water conservation marketing campaign, and the State Water Board recently released a proposed regulation to establish water efficiency goals for urban retail water suppliers.

Improving Forecasting, Data and Water Management

Forecasting and warning data from tools and research developed by DWR and academic partners helped inform emergency response efforts and keep partner agencies and the public up to date on flood threats during storms earlier this year.

Improving the capacity of water delivery systems, the 2021-22 and 2022-23 state budgets included a total of $200 million to help repair key canal systems in the San Joaquin Valley, including the Friant-Kern Canal, for which DWR released $29.8 million this March.

Overhauling of the state’s water rights data management system: Beginning this fall, millions of existing water rights records will be digitized by the State Water Board, and an advisory group involving a diverse range of experts and interested parties was recently formed, with its first meeting held on September 19, 2023.

Modernizing water rights administration: The State Water Board in March formed a technical advisory group to help develop a pilot for the measurement of water use and availability in real time. The Board recently held public listening sessions on the water rights measurement and reporting regulation, collecting input to help improve compliance and data quality.

Developing New Water Supplies

Expanding desalination: The State Water Board convened an interagency group of state and federal agencies to develop a draft report on seawater desalination siting and streamlining, which will help guide the location of future projects and propose ways to streamline permitting.

Increasing recycled water: The State Water Board announced nation-leading proposed regulations to convert wastewater into high-quality drinking water.

  • The state earlier this year also launched a Recycled Water Strike Team with state, federal and industry partners to identify and overcome obstacles to implementation of recycled water projects.
  • Governor Newsom signed legislation to make certain recycled water projects eligible for expedited judicial review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

For additional detail about California’s progress since 2020 to adapt water systems for a changing climate, see the October 2023 progress report on implementation of the state’s Water Resilience Portfolio.