During Northern Hemisphere winters, the West Coast of North America is battered by extratropical storms. The impact of these storms is of paramount concern to California, where aging water supply and flood protection infrastructures are challenged by increased standards for urban flood protection, an unusually variable weather regime, and projections of climate change. Additionally, there are inherent conflicts between releasing water to provide flood protection and storing water to meet requirements for water supply, water quality, hydropower generation, water temperature and flow for at-risk species, and recreation. In order to improve reservoir management and meet the increasing demands on water, improved forecasts of precipitation, especially during extreme events, is required. Here we describe how California is addressing their most important and costliest environmental issue – water management – in part, by installing a state-of-the-art observing system to better track the area’s most severe wintertime storms.