DWR’s $90.2 billion ‘State Water Investment Strategy’ doesn’t consider adaptation to sea level rise

The Department of Water Resources’ 2018 California Water Plan Update proposes that the state invest $90.2 billion over the next 50 years in increasing resilience of water supply and flood infrastructure, and ecosystem restoration. The enormously costly proposal is ambitiously named the “State Water Investment Plan.”

The $90.2 billion in the proposed “State Water Investment Strategy” includes $59 billion to “Strengthen Resiliency and Operational Flexibility of Existing and Future Infrastructure.”  The $59 billion includes implementation of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, which was determined to need $17-21 billion over the next 30 years in the 2017 CVFPP update.  The investment plan also proposes to subsidize maintenance and rehabilitation of the State Water Project and locally owned water supply infrastructure, ending the longtime state policy of “beneficiary pays.”

State Water Investment Strategy                           Source:  Department of Water Resources

DWR is proposing that the State Water Investment Strategy investments increase steadily, reaching $20 billion per decade by 2048.   But if investments in water supply are front-loaded, needed improvements in Central Valley flood protection may not be reached by 2050. This could be catastrophic. Daniel Swain et. al. estimated in 2018 that there is a 50% chance of an Arkstorm like flood event in the next 40 years.  The investment plan also includes no consideration of the need for investments in adaptation to sea level rise, which could become a major issue for coastal cities by mid-century.


Coastal flooding   Source:  National Parks Service

DWR’s State Water Investment Strategy also suggests diversion of funding from the GHG Cap and Trade fund to water infrastructure needs.  Diverting funds from mitigation would also increase risk of catastrophic effects of climate change and should be a non-starter.

The Department of Water Resources and the Natural Resources Agency need to revisit the State Water Investment Plan with an eye to a more balanced investment plan that takes into account needs for investment both in climate mitigation and adaptation.  The plan should consider the need for state investments in adaptation to sea level rise, as well as to increased frequency and severity of floods and droughts.   The plan should also prioritize state investments for “orphan” projects that otherwise have no revenue stream.

This post was updated on 10/14/2019 to include DWR’s graph of proposed State Water Investment Strategy investments.

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