Bakersfield Californian: Rather Than Going With the Flow, DWR Needs a Course Correction on Water Supply Modeling

“We can’t continue this. It’s not sustainable for our community,” Coalinga City Councilman Adam Adkisson told CNN in November 2022 when drought forced his community to confront unprecedented water scarcity, and market forces all too ready to capitalize on that hardship. The city eventually paid $1.1 million dollars to a public irrigation district on the open market for an amount of water previously costing $114,000. [1] Water scarcity, driven by extreme weather patterns and swings, is making a necessity of life unaffordable, with repercussions for not only our communities’ livelihoods, but also our economy and food security. To respond we need forecasting models utilizing the most updated data available.  

Despite the corresponding hardships to many vulnerable communities, the state imposes water restrictions across California, and they demand the utmost water efficiency practices from businesses to reduce our aggregate water consumption. In fairness, we must also command this same level of discipline of our state agencies tasked with managing the allotments and delivery of water. However, as the State Auditor’s report uncovered: In Water Year 2021 significant modeling errors led to the over-release of an estimated 700,000 acre-feet of water from California reservoirs. This happened because the Department of Water Resources (DWR) was not required to modify its predictive water supply modeling to account for drought conditions. [2]

This is why I am carrying Senate Bill 231, which would require DWR to reevaluate its processes for releasing water from California’s reservoirs. By annually evaluating and improving its water supply forecasts, developing a comprehensive, long-term plan for responding to the effects of drought, preparing and presenting quarterly reports on its progress meeting these requirements, and finally, an annual report made publicly available on the department’s website, we can improve DWR’s practices.[3] These requirements will help the Department move in the same efficiency direction everyone else has mandated on them by state and local agencies.  

I applaud the work of my legislative peer, and long-time friend of the Central Valley, the Honorable Assemblymember Adam Grey (D-Merced), who requested an audit of DWR in 2022[4]that uncovered their overestimation and premature release of 700,000 acre-feet of water during the height of the drought. Water reservoir releases need to account for and make room for incoming snowmelt. However, as Grey’s analysis noted, the amount irresponsibly released during the 2021 water year was enough to provide for at least 1.4 million households for a year.[5]

Responding to the Auditor’s recommendations on periodical evaluations to identify opportunities for improving forecasting models, DWR disagreed and dismissed the report’s principal findings, stating, “No amount of paperwork will solve the challenges of climate change.”[6] Dismissively equating the need for utilizing the most updated science possible and suggested process improvements with “paperwork” speaks volumes about the need for an institutional refocus on ensuring accurate water forecasts. Communities and our economy depend on accurate, current data for informed decision-making. The over reliance on historical data or outdated modeling noted in the audit will not serve the needs of Californians in the future in response to extreme weather patterns.

The burden responding to water reduction demands must be equally borne by all of us. That means, as communities step up to do more than their part, so too must the state agency entrusted with managing this vital resource. We need the outcomes and accountability that is only possible when we have frank conversations about an agency’s shortcomings. Senate Bill 231 can be the catalyst for improvement at DWR that ensures we do not shortchange another 1.4 million households during a future drought we know will come soon.

Op-ed appeared in the Bakersfield Californian, July 2, 2023


[1] This city paid $1.1M to keep faucets running through March as the price of water skyrockets in California

[2] CA State Auditor Report on DWR

[3] Leg info website

[4] California’s “Broken” Water Supply Forecast to be Audited, ABC 10

[5] State Auditor Needs to Investigate Water Agency Over Inaccurate Data, Cal Matters,

[6]  Audit finds California water agency not adequately considering climate change in forecasts, LA Times