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Strategies for IRWM

To better understand long-term strategies for IRWM success, it helps to look at the limitations of the historical approach to improve water supply, fl ood safety and/or water quality.

Traditionally, government agencies and California water offi cials have used a case-by-case approach to water management as each region developed its own source of water supply. As a result, there are many local and regional agencies that individually manage water supply, water quality, fl ood control, fi sh and wildlife habitat and other services. In contrast, the IRWM movement involves entities ranging from sanitation districts to farm bureaus that work together to develop and implement an IRWM plan.

Also, the decentralized nature of California’s water distribution has contributed to communication challenges between agencies. The success of IRWM is seen through achieved consensus building and revamped approaches to water and resource management. As people are pushed out of their comfort zones, they are creating regional partnerships that endure longer than joint projects or specifi c public outreach efforts. Many agencies have built on these relationships to implement non-mandatory projects, such as “green” infrastructure or recreation enhancements.

There have been other initiatives promoting regional cooperation. In 2002 DWR updated its groundwater basin boundaries to better incorporate hydrogeologic regions. The State Water Board’s Watershed Management Initiative also required the development of groundwater management plans. While the groundwater manage- ment plans are not technically required to use integrated regional management, groundwater management often follows similar concepts.

Despite successes, the IRWM process has had its share of diffi culties. One of the main obstacles has been the red tape at every level, and there have been hurdles associated with a purely incentive-based effort to alter the fundamental structure of water management planning in California. Furthermore, the program require- ments have been subject to frequent legislative and programmatic changes that have resulted in limited certainty.

Another key issue is how to get various state and federal agencies to coordinate better – something that is needed given the scale of large watersheds. Toward that end, regional stewardship authorities are viewed as the right place to pull in more coherent and coordinated regulatory agency actions. Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are looking for more opportunities to engage in integration and coordination

as a way of stretching scarce budgets.

In its 2011 report, Managing California’s Water from Conflict to Reconciliation, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that, “the current voluntary approach to integrated management – which entices local entities to collaborate in exchange for state bond support for infrastructure projects – is not very effective.” The PPIC authors “recommend the creation of regional stewardship au- thorities, either replacing or supplementing existing regional water quality control boards, to coordinate and focus the efforts of local agencies.

The PPIC report further stated, “Better information and stron- ger analytical tools will be needed to support these goals. The state has an interest in the collection and development of local, regional and state- wide information as well as in regulations and incentives that foster the development of effective portfolios. Without such information and institutional prodding, water decision making and confl icts will remain more diffi cult, expensive and time-consuming to resolve.”

Some regions report inconsistencies in fi nancing projects and the grant application process. There is sometimes concern about the cost of applying for IRWM fi nancing in terms of time and money while also encountering delays in reimbursement of project costs. Meanwhile, it can be a struggle to develop integrated projects that fi t the project requirements and remain competitive for different grant programs. Small, low-budget, nonprofi t organizations can be particularly affected by these issues, especially because IRWM grants cannot fund staff positions.

Even so, stakeholders see the process as a step forward rather than a step back.

By using a portfolio approach – one that harnesses the collective expertise of water supply, water quality, fl ood management, environmental stewardship, land use planning and management, and public policy groups – RWMGs can make informed, cost-effective decisions at both the local and region-wide level. Such coordinated solutions can better incorporate the needs of the larger watershed, rather than decisions based strictly on jurisdictional boundaries, and, in turn, help ensure the long-term sustainability of California’s water supply and environmental quality.


Watch the PPIC video “California Water Woes”

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