Collaborative Versus Technocratic Policymaking: California’s Statewide Water Plan
Ariel Ambruster | January 1st, 2008
In 2001, the California Department of Water Resources embarked on one of the most elaborate public involvement processes in state history. Over the course of five years and 200 meetings, a 65-member Stakeholder Advisory Committee and a 350-member Extended Review Forum worked with agency staff to produce a new water plan for California. The process consumed some 23,000 person-hours in face-to-face discussions alone.
Although the state had been updating its water plan approximately every five years since 1957, the 2005 process produced a dramatically different type of document. For one thing, the 2005 Update is conceptually more accurate, complex, nuanced, and comprehensive. The policy recommendations described in its strategic plan address a broader range of issues—including climate change and environmental justice—yet they engendered somewhat less political controversy than the policies identified in the 1998 Update. Moreover, there is evidence that the collaborative process used in 2001-2005 catalyzed improvements in the relationships among California’s historically warring water stakeholders, and also sparked the beginnings of positive cultural changes within certain quarters of DWR.This research report authored by Ariel Ambruster catalogues the outcomes of the 2005 Water Plan Update process and those of its predecessor, the 1998 Update.