On April 2, 2024, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) released the California Water Plan Update 2023 (CWP 2023 Update). DWR’s press release dubs the plan “A Roadmap to Water Management and Infrastructure for a Water Resilient Future.” Resiliency is one of the key focuses for the CWP 2023 Update, as its chapter on objectives is entitled the “Roadmap to Resilience.” The plan is focused on the vision that “All Californians benefit from water resources that are sustainable, resilient to climate change, and managed to achieve shared values and connections to our communities and the environment.”

The CWP 2023 Update is the latest version of a plan that has existed since 1957 and evolved from planning that started in 1931. The plan is required by the Water Code and must be updated every five years. This version was initially released on September 20, 2023 with comments due by October 19, 2023 (which can be found on the CWP 2023 Update webpage along with numerous other key documents). As detailed in multiple brochures, the CWP 2023 Update is designed to work in concert with the Water Resilience Portfolio and Governor Newsom’s Water Supply Strategy.

The plan is focused on three “intersecting and interdependent themes:”

  • Addressing Climate Urgency
  • Strengthening Watershed Resilience
  • Achieving Equity

The CWP 2023 Update seeks to achieve its goals through seven objectives, each of which is supported by more-specific recommendations that are to be achieved through specifically noted actions. The objectives are:

  • Support Watershed Resilience Planning and Implementation.
  • Improve Resiliency of “Backbone” State, Federal, and Regional Built Water Infrastructure.
  • Improve Resiliency of Natural “Backbone” Infrastructure.
  • Advance Equitable Outcomes in Water Management.
  • Support and Learn from Tribal Water and Resource Management Practices.
  • Support and Increase Flexibility of Regulatory Systems.
  • Provide Guidance and Support Continued Resources for Implementation of Actions toward Water Resilience.

The CWP 2023 Update addresses the specific needs of the various stakeholders. For example, for public interest groups, it defines “frontline communities” (which fit the common definition of environmental and social justice [ESJ] communities) and includes equity as a key theme. The plan also addresses interests and concerns of water providers including the centrality and necessity of state funding, the importance of watershed planning, the inefficiency and difficulty of complying with numerous requirements from numerous regulators (seemingly) without any sort of bigger picture plan or collaboration, and the need for the state to be more flexible in regulation. Last, the plan includes a new chapter dedicated to Native American Tribes and addresses their specific needs.

The real test of the Plan’s effectiveness will be to what extent the state takes the objectives and themes to heart and actually institutes them. The press release noted that later in April DWR will be launching the Watershed Resilience Program, which will distribute $10 million between five watersheds. That program is meant “to assess local climate variability and risks, while developing strategies to adapt to climate change and weather whiplash.” That program will get the CWP 2023 Update up and running and only time will tell to what extent it is followed.

DWR will provide further information regarding the CWP 2023 Update including details of upcoming projects and available funding through a webinar on Monday, April 29, 2024 from 10-12. Interested parties can sign up here.