Achieving a more effective and flexible water storage system requires a shift in the way that we, as a society, understand, define, and use storage as an element of integrated water management. Broadening our view of what constitutes a storage reservoir must be accompanied by a shift in our policies and programs to support a “retention” approach to storage—one that holds as much water as possible in the landscape for later use, while maintaining healthy ecosystems.
To be more resilient and better prepared for future variations in water supply, California must take advantage of all storage opportunities throughout the system that meet the goals of reliable water supply and ecosystem restoration.
Several valuable aspects of water storage tend to be overlooked in terms of their ability to contribute to the availability and reliability of water supplies for uses that benefit society.
In particular, California’s agricultural lands play an important role in the storage infrastructure. The value of working lands in helping to sequester water for later use while achieving many benefits, such as food security, flood management and habitat restoration, represents a critical missed opportunity for improving water security.
Four key principles must guide efforts to ensure effective water retention in the future:
1. Storage integrates all hydrological components affecting water availability, movement, and retention to improve supply reliability statewide for evolving needs.
2. Comprehensive, timely, accurate, accessible, and transparent data and resulting information about our water resources is an essential foundation for effectively managing water storage in California.
3. An effective storage system requires the coordination of policies and regulations, activities, oversight, and accountability of all government agencies to meet local, regional, and statewide needs simultaneously.
4. Water storage and retention for improved water supply reliability and watershed health is facilitated by the availability of new sources of financial support that allow investment in quantified outcomes.
Improving the flow of information through coordinated data management and institutional coordination can lead to powerful water retention outcomes. Several new and innovative funding mechanisms can complement traditional funding streams for water retention and are particularly well suited to agricultural applications.