Sustainable Landscapes on Commercial and Industrial Properties in the Santa Ana River Watershed

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Published: February 2019
Authors: Heather Cooley, Anne Thebo, Cora Kammeyer, Sonali Abraham, Charles Gardiner, Martha Davis
Pages: 54

Pressures on water resources are intensifying due to aging infrastructure, population growth, and climate change, among other factors. With vast expanses of water-intensive turf grass and large impervious surfaces, most urbanized communities are ill-adapted to these pressures.

This study finds that there are significant opportunities for the business community in California’s Santa Ana River Watershed to contribute to shared watershed goals through investments in sustainable landscape practices on their properties. These landscapes can improve surface water quality, flood management, and water supply reliability, while also reducing energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering carbon, improving ecosystem and human health, promoting economic activity, and enhancing community resilience. While focused on the Santa Ana River Watershed, the project approach and findings are relevant to urban communities around the world.

The project includes an interactive mapping tool that allows users to explore the potential benefits of sustainable landscaping practices across the Santa Ana River Watershed. This project is a collaboration between the Pacific Institute, California Forward, the CEO Water Mandate, and the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority.

Read the full report here.

Read the Executive Summary here.

View the interactive mapping tool here.

Integrating Water Efficiency into Long‐Term Demand Forecasting

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Published: August 2018
Authors: Sarah Diringer, Heather Cooley, Matthew Heberger, Rapichan Phurisamban, Kristina Donnelly, Andrea Turner, John McKibbin, and Mary Ann Dickinson
Page: 172

Per capita water use in the United States has fallen by more than 40% since the 1970s. In some areas, reductions in per capita water use have offset continued population and economic growth, such that total water use has remained constant or even declined. A key driver in reducing per capita water demand is the greater uptake of water efficient appliances and fixtures.

Many demand forecasts do not adequately account for efficiency improvements and the resulting changes in per capita water usage, thereby overestimating future water demand. Overestimating future water demand can, for example, result in millions of dollars of unnecessary expenditures, loss of consumer confidence and goodwill, and adverse impacts on system water quality and local economies.

This report aims to help water planners and managers improve the reliability of long-term water demand forecasts by more accurately accounting for factors likely to affect future demand, including building codes, efficiency standards, and third-party certification programs.

The report was produced by researchers at the Pacific Institute, Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, and the Alliance for Water Efficiency. It was published by the Water Research Foundation.

View the webinar “Integrating Water Efficiency into Long-Term Demand Forecasting” here.

Download the Executive Summary here.

Water Research Foundation subscribers can download the entire report here.


The World’s Water, Volume 9

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Published: February 6, 2018
Authors: Peter Gleick, Michael Cohen, Heather Cooley, Kristina Donnelly, Julian Fulton, Mai-Lan Ha, Jason Morrison, Rapichan Phurisamban, Heather Rippman, and Stefanie Woodward, with a Foreword by Alexandra Cousteau
Pages: 260

The newest volume in this highly regarded series, The World’s Water, Volume 9 continues to offer insights into critical global water problems, overviews of data and analysis around water use and management, and case studies of some of the greatest water challenges around the world.

The new volume delivers analysis on corporate water stewardship, the human right to water and sanitation, water-use trends in the United States, the water footprint of California energy, the consequences of the severe five-year California drought, water markets and economic strategies for water management, and the cost of alternative water supply and demand strategies. Additionally, concise “water briefs” provide updates on water’s role in conflict around the globe, a meeting held at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican on the human right to water, and critical issues around public access to water through drinking fountains.

  1. The UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate: History, Objectives, Strategy
  2. A Human Rights Lens for Corporate Water Stewardship: Toward Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal for Water
  3. Updating Water-Use Trends in the United States
  4. The Water Footprint of California’s Energy System, 1990–2012
  5. The Nature and Impact of the 2012–2016 California Drought
  6. Water Trading in Theory and Practice
  7. The Cost of Water Supply and Efficiency Options: A California Case
Water Briefs:
  1. The Human Right to Water and Global Sustainability: Actions of the Vatican
  2. Access to Water through Public Drinking Fountains
  3. Water and Conflict Update

Pacific Institute President Emeritus Peter Gleick is the series creator and editor, with coauthors Michael Cohen, Heather Cooley, Kristina Donnelly, Julian Fulton, Mai-Lan Ha, Jason Morrison, Rapichan Phurisamban, Heather Rippman, and Stefanie Woodward.

The book is an invaluable resource for community leaders, health officials, academics, students, and others whose work touches on freshwater.

Purchase the eBook for $12.99:

The World’s Water Volume 9 is also available in the following formats:
Print-on-demand softcover book for $55.00
Kindle ebook  for $9.99

August 2017 Newsletter

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In this month’s newsletter:

  • World Water Week in Stockholm
  • Corporate Engagement on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene
  • Why Go for Desal When California Has Cheaper Options?

And more!

Read the August 2017 Newsletter

Mobile Apps to Quench Your Thirst

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A Review of Public Drinking Fountain Finders

By Ayana Crawford and Rapichan Phurisamban
June 12,2017

Public drinking fountains used to be everywhere, providing a reliable source of free, high-quality drinking water outside the home. They are a great alternative to bottled water, with its steep environmental costs and high price (200 to 1,000 times more expensive than tap water or more). Drinking fountains, however, have been disappearing from public spaces over the past few decades. Poor public perception and concerns over water quality (as illustrated in the “water fountain episode” of Parks and Recreation) have played a role in their disappearance.

Water quality issues at public fountains, when they exist, can be traced to poor cleaning and maintenance or old piping and fixture parts. To ensure the quality and continuance of public drinking fountains, (1) they must be routinely cleaned and maintained; (2) old drinking fountains with lead parts must be replaced or new fountains installed in high-traffic areas, and; (3) modern tools must be developed to let people know how to find these fountains.


Conflicts Over Water Continue to Expand: New Updates to the Pacific Institute Water Conflict Chronology

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May 9, 2017, Oakland, Calif. – The Pacific Institute, a global water think tank, has released an update to its online assessment of water-related conflicts: The Water Conflict Chronology. This unique database records violence related to access to fresh water, attacks on water systems, the use of water as a weapon, terrorist incidents related to water, and more, going back nearly 5,000 years.

“There is a long, unfortunate history of water conflicts,” says database creator Peter Gleick. “Most concerning, however, is an uptick in the numbers of such incidents in recent years, and especially an increase in both violence related to fundamental access to basic water services and intentional attacks on water infrastructure in conflicts that begin for other reasons, especially in the Middle East.”

Notable examples included in the most recent chronology update include many incidents in India associated with severe drought and protests over inadequate availability of water; persistent attacks on water systems in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen; and perhaps most disturbing, a growing number of assassinations of environmental activists who have been working to expand the voices of local communities in environmental protection around rivers and water resources.

Among the new entries:

In 2016, Berta Cáceres, a prize-winning activist opposing the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Río Gualcarque river in Honduras, was murdered after years of death threats and state persecution linked to her campaign. Two of her colleagues have also been killed. In South Africa, environmental activist Sikhosiphi Radebe was murdered while opposing industrial mining development that threatened community water resources and land.

In early 2016, at least 18 people were killed and 200 injured after the Indian Army intervened to reopen the Munak canal, which supplies New Delhi with three-fifths of its freshwater supply. The canal was shut down by economic protests in Haryana State. Sabotage of the canal left more than 10 million people in India’s capital without water.

Several entries describe repeated attacks on water pipelines, pumping plants, dams, and treatment systems by almost all parties in the Syria and Iraq conflicts. Officials estimate that in Syria there has been a 50 percent reduction in access to safe water in the country since the civil war began.

Water and energy systems have regularly been targeted in the violence between Russia and the Ukraine over the past few years. A long series of attacks have intermittently left nearly three million people without access to reliable water supplies. The attacks included repeated damage to the Donetsk Filtration Plant, the South Donbass water pipeline, energy plants that supply power to water treatment and distribution systems, and the Carbonit Water Pumping Station.

Two new entries in the United States were also added to the chronology, including the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge over water rights and land use, which ended with one death and several arrests, and the violence at the Standing Rock protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline, which Native Americans consider a threat to the region’s water resources, including the Missouri River, and to ancient burial grounds. During the protests, hundreds of people were injured and arrested.

New historical examples have also been added this year, including an entry in India in 1260 AD and one in Hispaniola in 1802, both related to the use of water systems as weapons or targets during conflicts and political uprisings.

“Pressures on water resources around the world continue to grow,” says Peter Gleick. “The growing threat of conflicts over these resources is both disturbing and a call to action. Researchers, water experts, diplomats, and the military need to improve their understanding of the links between water and security and work to reduce the risks of conflict.”

Since its founding in 1987, the Pacific Institute has been a leading research center for work on water conflicts and the Institute will continue to track incidents and trends in this area.

The Water Conflict Chronology

Global interactive map:

Database listing:



The Pacific Institute is a global water think tank that creates and advances solutions to some of the world’s most pressing water challenges through interdisciplinary research and by partnering with a variety of stakeholders. Founded in 1987 and based in Oakland, California, the Pacific Institute envisions a world in which society, the economy, and the environment have the water they need to thrive now and in the future.

Exploring the Case for Corporate Context-Based Water Targets

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Published: April 12, 2017
Authors: CDP, CEO Water Mandate (a project of the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact), The Nature Conservancy, World Resources Institute, and WWF
Pages: 28

contextMore companies than ever before are setting water targets, yet global water stress continues to rise. How can companies ensure that their water targets align with meaningful outcomes?

In this discussion paper, CDP, CEO Water Mandate (a project of the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), World Resources Institute (WRI), and WWF call for a new approach for setting meaningful corporate water targets that take into account the unique local contexts of the basins in which companies operate.

Since water issues are primarily local, each basin has unique challenges that need to be considered when managing its water resources. Context-based metrics and targets recognize the particular challenges present in each basin, allowing for physical and social thresholds and tracking water use relative to basin thresholds and availability. In order to be effective, besides addressing site-specific concerns, context-based water metrics and targets should include input from local stakeholders, be informed by contextual social needs, make the best use of available science, and align with local and global public policy objectives.

This context-based approach is not only necessary for protecting water resources, it also offer business value. Such an approach would help drive corporate alignment with effective public policy water goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

View and download the full report here.

Drought and Equity in California

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Published: January 9, 2017
Authors: Laura Feinstein, Rapichan Phurisamban, Amanda Ford, Christine Tyler, and Ayana Crawford
Pages: 80

DE_CaliDrought and Equity in California is the first statewide analysis of the impacts of California’s five-year (2012-2016) drought on California’s most vulnerable communities. This report provides information community groups can use to advocate for their own interests, as well as to inform policymakers and other decision-makers interested in crafting more effective drought response strategies, particularly to address the needs of the state’s most vulnerable communities.

The report finds that during the state’s five-year drought, water shortages and price hikes affected access to safe, affordable water for Californians, with substantial impacts on low-income families and communities burdened with environmental pollution. The report also examines the effects of a rapidly declining salmon population on commercial and tribal fishermen and finds that the decline and variability of salmon populations during droughts has impacted those dependent on the fish for income, food, and cultural traditions.

Disadvantaged communities (those with a medium household income of less than 80 percent of the state median) and cumulatively burdened communities (those that rank in the top quarter of census tracts in the state for environmental burdens and socio-economic vulnerability) were highly affected by water shortages. Drought-impacted public water systems were widespread, with at least one found in 39 of the state’s 58 counties, but were concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley, the North Coast, and the Central Coast. Of the 92 drought-impacted water systems examined, two-thirds served a disadvantaged community, and nearly one-third served a cumulatively-burdened community. Dry household wells were also a major problem for vulnerable communities. In Tulare County, for example, two-thirds of the approximately 1,600 reported dry wells were in a disadvantaged community, and nearly 90% were in a cumulatively burdened community.

View a map of household water shortages in Tulare county here.

The report also found drought charges exacerbated affordability concerns for low-income households. Many utilities use a model for drought charges that raises costs for low-income, low-water users that already pay more than they can afford for their basic water needs. The effect of these charges was most extreme for families earning less than $10,000, raising costs from 4.4% to 5.3% of household income. These households have little or no disposable income, and any increase in water costs poses a major challenge.

Says co-author Laura Feinstein: “Water supply shortages during the drought affected some of the most vulnerable populations in the state. Not all Californians have equal access to water, and those with the fewest financial resources faced the greatest problems during the drought.”

The drought exacerbated long-term declines in salmon populations in the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers. For centuries, Native Americans in California and the Pacific Northwest have relied on salmon not only as a source of sustenance, but also as an integral part of their spiritual and cultural traditions. The dwindling salmon population represents a loss of both physical and spiritual sustenance. For commercial fishermen, the drought worsened conditions for the salmon fishing fleet, which has declined by 80% since 1982.

Addressing the underlying inequities in how the state’s water resources are managed is all the more urgent because droughts are becoming longer, more frequent, and more severe due to climate change.

The report provides a list of recommendations for mitigating impacts of future droughts on these communities, including:

  • Establishing a statewide quantitative metric for measuring water supply reliability for water systems;
  • Identifying areas where water system consolidation can resolve supply problems;
  • Ensuring drought surcharges are not applied to basic water use, preferably by calculating household water budgets based on household size;
  • Targeting water conservation and efficiency programs to low-income households by offering, for example, point-of-sale coupons, targeted education and outreach, and direct-install programs;
  • Expanding the goals of emergency drought responses beyond preserving endangered species to include protection of commercially-fished salmon species;
  • Providing income assistance and insurance protection for fishing communities during drought emergencies; and
  • Creating mechanisms for meaningful and timely tribal engagement with local, regional, state, and federal agencies.

Read the Executive Summary here.

Read the Full Report here.

Appendix 1A, Data Sources for Section 1: Drought and Domestic Water Shortages
Appendix 1B, Spreadsheet: Drought-Impacted Public Water Systems
Appendix 1C, Spreadsheet: State Reports of Household Outages, Aug 8 2016
Appendix 2A, Spreadsheet: Drought Charges
Appendix 2B, Spreadsheet: Affordability Analysis
Appendix 3A, Tribal Salmon Fishery Data

A Community Guide for Evaluating Future Urban Water Demand

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Published: August 31, 2016
Authors: Matthew Heberger, Kristina Donnelly, and Heather Cooley
Pages: 48

CGUFUWDA Community Guide for Evaluating Future Urban Water Demand provides communities, environmental groups, ratepayer advocates, and anyone interested in sustainable water supply planning with the knowledge and tools they need to understand water demand forecasts.

Communities across the U.S. are faced with decisions about how to meet the needs of a growing population. To help make these decisions, water utilities often rely on forecasts that project water use 20 or 30 years into the future, consistent with the amount of time it takes to develop new supply infrastructure, such as desalination plants or reservoirs.

For much of the 20th century, water use in American cities grew in proportion to population and the economy. Since the 1980s, however, water use in communities across the United States has remained steady or declined despite continued population and economic growth, due to improved water conservation and efficiency and structural changes in the American economy.

While the water sector has undergone a fundamental transformation, the practice of water demand forecasting has been slow to keep pace. Water suppliers routinely overestimate future water demand based on often overstated estimates of population and economic growth and underestimates of the effects of water conservation and efficiency improvements. These inflated estimates of future water needs can result in unneeded water supply and treatment infrastructure, higher costs to ratepayers, and unnecessary environmental impacts.

The guidebook explains how water utilities forecast long-term water demand and reviews some of the approaches and methods commonly used by utilities and consultants. It also provides a set of best practices that can be used to create more accurate and robust long-range water demand forecasts. Some of these best practices include accounting for water conservation and efficiency improvements and land use changes, as well as ensuring transparency and meaningful stakeholder engagement.

Download the guidebook here.

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Diablo Canyon, Climate Change, Drought, and Energy Policy

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By Peter Gleick, President Emeritus and Chief Scientist

June 24, 2016

The announcement that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) will close the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant when its current operating licenses expire in 2025 has caused what can only be described as consternation mixed with occasional conniptions among the nuclear industry and some strongly pro-nuclear groups.

That’s understandable. Diablo Canyon is aging, but is not the oldest nuclear plant in the fleet and PG&E could have chosen to push for a renewal of the license to continue operations for many more years. Diablo Canyon’s two reactors are also California’s last operating nuclear plants, following the closure many years ago of Rancho Seco near Sacramento, and more recently, the last of the San Onofre reactors. As such, the closure is symbolic of the broader woes of the nuclear power industry in the United States, which has been unable to build new reactors and is seeing the current reactors being shuttered, one by one.


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