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Every five years, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) prepares the California Water Plan, a statutorily mandated strategic plan to guide the management and control of the state’s water resources. The main purpose of the 2023 California Water Plan (2023 Water Plan) is to outline the status and trends of California’s water supplies, water-dependent natural resources, and agricultural, urban, and environmental water demands while also reflecting the current legislative and administrative priorities for water resources. Ultimately, the 2023 Water Plan will serve as a planning and policy roadmap that will guide DWR in the proceeding five-year period.
On September 20, 2023, DWR released a Public Review Draft of the 2023 Water Plan (Draft 2023 Plan), allowing members of the public to review and provide comments to the Draft 2023 Plan within a 30-day comment period, ending October 19, 2023.
Two of the Newsom administration’s water initiatives, the Water Resilience Portfolio (WRP) and the Water Supply Strategy (WSS), are folded into the Draft 2023 Plan with many of the priorities and policies outlined in those initiatives mirrored by DWR. Both the WRP and WSS were adopted as a response to climate change impacts on California’s water supply and identify billions of dollars of investment for climate change resilience programs. DWR explicitly states its intent to advance both initiatives in the Draft 2023 Plan, which includes developing new water supplies, expanding water storage, reducing demand, and improving forecasting, data, and management, including water rights modernization.
Building on the Newsom administration’s water initiatives, DWR encourages the state and federal governments to provide local water agencies with the tools necessary to facilitate these priorities, including streamlined permitting processes, expedited project funding, and technical assistance for project identification. The Draft 2023 Plan also encourages the implementation of an enhanced Integrated Regional Water Management Program (IRWMP) that funds climate vulnerability and risk assessments at the watershed scale.
However, pursuant to Water Code section 10005, subdivision (b), nothing in the 2023 Water Plan constitutes either the approval or prohibition for the construction of specific projects or for financial assistance by the state without further legislative action. Though the Draft 2023 Plan endorses many of the current administration’s water policy objectives, it does not grant DWR any additional authority beyond what is provided by the Legislature. While it is unclear how the Legislature uses the 2023 Water Plan, the statute is clear that the Legislature has the final say in the approval of any projects or plans discussed by DWR and anything discussed in the 2023 Water Plan not already codified in statute must go through the legislative process.
The Draft 2023 Plan identifies three intersecting and interdependent themes that will further guide the enactment of future policies and programs by DWR in the proceeding five-year period:
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