Our research examines Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) policy-in-practice, which often reflects broader State exclusion of Tribal partners in natural resource policy, yet also provides potential opportunities for government-to-government collaboration and co-management. IRWM is the state of California’s chosen mechanism for collaborative water management. Our findings confirm that if Tribes and state or local jurisdictions were already working well together, the IRWM program has been beneficial to Tribal interests. In the Tuolumne-Stanislaus IRWM region, for example, the Regional Water Management Group (RWMG) facilitated a first of its kind voluntary water transfer between a Tribe and a local water agency. Conversely, in situations in which local governments and Tribal governments were adversarial, IRWM presents an additional barrier to Tribal participation in water policy and planning, despite Tribes’ Winters-affirmed federal reserved water rights. In all instances, we found it would significantly improve IRWM statewide to require RWMGs to: (a) engage in statutorily defined1 government-to-government consultation with Tribes and (b) provide seats for Tribal representation on RWMG governance bodies. By revising the IRWM program guidelines, the state of California can continue to address deeply institutionalized inequities within state water policy and management structures. Following the release of our recommendations, California Department of Water Resources (DWR) began holding workshops to examine revising the IRWM program guidelines. If DWR implements the findings from our study and requires Tribal participation in the governance of RWMGs, this could set a productive example for other states, as well as result in significant benefits in California water management.



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