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

Published: March 2016

Authors: Heather Cooley, Peter Gleick, Kristina Donnelly, Jeff Loux, Tim Worley, and David Sedlak

Pages: 23



California has a long list of unresolved and difficult water challenges, made more urgent by periods of severe drought that are exacerbated by climate change. 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 are intensifying. With competing needs and uses for water across the state, management of this valuable resource is a source of conflict among sectors.

Recognizing the urgent need for serious changes in the way water is managed and used in California, the Pacific Institute, in partnership with the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association, the UC Berkeley Water Center, and the University of California Davis Extension’s Collaboration Center, coordinated a series of in-depth meetings with a broad array of stakeholders. The result is a set of practical recommendations for policymakers, municipal water managers, businesses, and community groups.

This unique effort provided participants opportunities to move beyond the traditional rancor and conflict by coming together to identify pragmatic and achievable solutions to urban water challenges. Together, they generated a set of practical recommendations for policymakers, municipal water managers, businesses, and community groups. The group was comprised of representatives from water utilities, trade associations, nonprofit organizations, academia, foundations, and the business sector.

Key Findings

Key findings include:

The meetings identified key ways to improve urban water management in California. Prior to the workshop, the organizers developed 41 test statements in five key areas:

  • demand management;
  • local and regional water supplies;
  • integrated water resource management;
  • ecosystem protection and restoration; and
  • water rates, financing, and governance.


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.

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