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California: Water security from infrastructure, institutions, and the global economy

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California’s water system has immense seasonal, annual, and geographic variability in hydrology and water demands and tremendous historical growth in population and dynamism in economic structure. Although California’s situation would normally make it highly vulnerable to water shortages and floods, California has adapted effectively. An extensive set of semi-autonomous local, regional, and statewide water management institutions supports extensive and diverse water management infrastructure and operations. These diverse facilities and institutions are coordinated by an extensive web of regulations, water rights, contracts, and incentives, despite continuing challenges. The resulting institutional and physical system has always suffered from the semi-aridity and variability of California’s climate, and is continuously challenged by long-term growth in population and shifts in economic structure and social objectives. However, the political decentralisation of the system has brought steady local innovation, with larger episodic regional and statewide innovations accompanying the additional attention and focus brought by extreme events. The high variability of California’s climate also provides frequent political motivation for large- and small-scale innovations in water management. The result is a form of far-sighted incrementalism, driven by continuing problems and providing an unusual degree of water security for most of the state, though not all.




Lund, J., & Medellín-Azuara, J. (2018). California: Water security from infrastructure, institutions, and the global economy. In Water Resources Development and Management (pp. 267–279). Springer.

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