Where We Agree: Building Consensus on Solutions to California’s Urban Water Challenges

Published: March 9, 2016
Authors: Heather Cooley, Peter H. Gleick, Kristina Donnelly, Jeff Loux, Tim Worley, and David Sedlak
Pages: 23

Where_We_Agree_Report_CoverCalifornia has a long list of unresolved and difficult water challenges, made more urgent by the severe drought that is gripping the state. As the state’s population continues to grow and climate changes become increasingly apparent, the pressures to identify and implement solutions to these critical challenges have only intensified.

Recognizing an urgent need for serious changes in the way water is managed and used in the state, a broad array of stakeholders saw an opportunity to move beyond the traditional rancor and conflict by coming together to identify pragmatic and achievable solutions to urban water challenges.

During 2015, the Pacific Institute, in partnership with the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association, UC Berkeley Water Center, and UC Davis Extension’s Collaboration Center, coordinated a series of in-depth Where We Agree meetings. This unique effort provided participants opportunities to set aside differences and explore water technologies and policies that would have broad support. Together, they generated a set of practical recommendations for policymakers, municipal water managers, businesses, and community groups.

It’s time to put disagreements aside and concentrate on implementing solutions that we know work and launching innovative approaches to managing the state’s water resources,” said Pacific Institute Water Program Director Heather Cooley. “I am delighted with the progress this group made to create and advance a wide range of positive, on-the-ground solutions to California’s water crisis.”

The group was comprised of representatives from water utilities, trade associations, nonprofit organizations, academia, foundations, and the business sector. The meetings identified key ways to improve urban water management in California. Some key areas of agreement identified by the group include:

  • Expand indoor and outdoor water conservation and efficiency efforts that target residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional users;
  • Increase water reuse at a variety of scales, from a more decentralized building-scale system to a more centralized municipal scale, by adopting a suite of policies to make it more affordable and convenient;
  • Adopt stormwater policies, guidelines, and incentives to facilitate stormwater capture and use;
  • Improve resilience for future droughts by enhancing planning and data collection and reducing constraints on short-term water transfers during droughts, provided they are protective of ecosystems and communities;
  • Improve the reliability and adequacy of funding for water infrastructure;
  • Integrate water management activities to foster innovative solutions that result in projects that provide multiple services and benefits;
  • And invest in groundwater storage and develop an integrated strategy for maximizing the potential of these projects.

“Despite the perception of unresolvable water conflicts in California, there is broad consensus on many of the key strategies needed to tackle our water resource challenges. The outcome of these Where We Agree meetings offers a roadmap for sensible solutions that have a strong likelihood of public and political support and if implemented, could dramatically shift the way Californians use and manages water” said Cooley.

Download the full report here.