A Framework for Regulatory Transition: Accommodating Projected Climatic Shifts at the Operational Level - California

This briefing paper provides an overview of California's current hydrology and water management practices, the shifts in the state’s hydrology due to climate change, and the changes in the water resources regulatory framework that are needed to adapt. The current regulatory framework described is based on the premise that the hydrological baseline, with accepted levels of year to year and seasonal variability in water flows, is a constant. California's hydrology is being altered by climate change, and the effects are predicted to become even more pronounced over the next several decades, altering this baseline. Numerous regulatory institutions as well as state and local contracts are predicated on relatively stable patterns of water flow that can no longer be relied upon in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

Water resources management includes all of the water allocations, hydropower generation, in-stream flows, reservoir flood evacuation, transfers/conveyances, refuge/wetland filling, and the many other “managed” uses of water across the state. The paper presents specific recommendations to water resource managers, including to set priorities among the regulatory domains potentially affected by the shifting hydrological baseline, and to identify key provisions that may need to be revised to enable effective adaptation. The report advocates that regulators, water purveyors, power utilities, NGOs, and interested stakeholders utilize their collective ability to meet existing regulatory requirements, coordinate across silos, and anticipate this shift in the hydrological baseline. The author suggests that greater effort and investment is required to determine how the existing regulatory framework can accommodate these expected shifts, and adapt to ongoing climate impacts. 

Publication Date: October 2012

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Robert Shibatani


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Planning guides

States Affected:


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