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Developing a Sustainable Supply ChainSustainable Water Management Efforts in California

Developing a Sustainable Supply Chain

I.            INTRODUCTION

A.    Impetus for the Project

In 2015 the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation launched the Community Foundation Water Initiative, to build capacity of local foundations to better engage in water issues within their communities. Five community foundation partners agreed to participate, working individually and collectively to advance sustainable water management solutions. The Community Foundation Water Initiative partners include: The San Francisco Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Central Valley Community Foundation, California Community Foundation (Los Angeles), and The San Diego Foundation. These foundations have been advancing social equity, community education and civic engagement, youth empowerment, economic opportunity, public health, and environmental sustainability within their communities for decades. They possess both the credibility and capability to advance progress on complex issues within their region and across the state. For this reason, these five foundations in partnership with the Bechtel Foundation are striving to build durable capacity and institutional knowledge within the philanthropic sector to engage in sustainable water management efforts in California.

Each partner community foundation recognizes the impact water has on their respective communities, and approaches the topic from their unique institutional perspective. Some focus on programming for climate, others on equity, agriculture, land use, and housing. Foundation partners connect regularly to share progress and lessons learned from their individual efforts, and explore ways to connect local and regional efforts for broader statewide impact. Integrating water management and land use planning emerged as a shared interest area among CFWI members. As such, the CFWI commissioned this report to identify and pursue opportunities at the intersection of integrated water management and land use planning that advance equity, regional economic development, climate adaptation, housing and transportation planning. Through this effort, CFWI members are gaining a robust understanding of water management needs and opportunities for improved integration with land use planning at local, regional and statewide levels. By advocating for and investing in efforts that effectively integrate water management and land use planning, local community foundations will help make all of California’s communities more equitable and resilient.

The Local Government Commission seeks to identify strategies for community foundations and other local leaders to leverage the multiple benefits of an integrated, collaborative planning approach. These benefits will not only impact the project beneficiaries, but we hope will have a “scaling up” effect to influence regional and statewide practices. Our aim is not to replicate reports and analyses that already exist – but to connect all of the work that is being done at both the regional and state level. This situation analysis and strategy development will position local community foundations to ignite integration of watershed-scale land use planning and water management.

B.    Background on the Issue


The disconnect between water resources management and land use planning is recognized by many as a significant barrier to long-term community resilience. It has a long history, beginning with post-World War II era community design that emphasized accommodating automobiles and widespread migration to sprawling suburbs.[i] Natural resources management and planning accommodated this shift by segregating into unique specialties, and regulatory structures followed suit.[ii] The decentralization era resulted in a multiplicity of specialized agencies, departments, and bodies of law for each domain – water supply, wastewater, transportation, housing, urban planning, etc. This formal differentiation between planning and management philosophy and practice inhibits collaboration and mechanisms for reaping co-benefits. The inefficiencies, duplications, conflicting policies, and wasteful actions that result have been well documented.[iii] The past half-century of segregated planning and management efforts have led to innumerable negative impacts to our natural resources, community health, social welfare, and overall resilience in the face of climate change.[iv] As water supply in particular becomes a more pressing resource management issue both locally and nationally, more attention to integrated planning is needed.

Current Status

The disconnect between water and land use is often framed as a technical problem; it is also a political and cultural problem. The authority of cities and counties to regulate land use in their own jurisdiction is deeply anchored in California history and cherished by local communities. Local governments focus on sustaining a robust economy through land use decisions that contribute to infrastructure development, which generate local government revenue to cover the costs of community services. Meanwhile water management agencies operate within their own authority, making decisions about water infrastructure investments, pricing, etc. to maximize their ability to deliver water and/or treat wastewater (and thus generate revenue to cover the cost of their service). Despite overlapping jurisdictions and competing priorities, few governance structures or regulatory requirements currently exist to align water management and land use planning.

The benefits of water and land use coordination are as numerous as the negative impacts of the existing fragmented approach. Prior research has shown two key benefits: (1) improved cost effectiveness and outcomes for planning and management of water quality and supply, and (2) better distribution of water between ecosystem and consumptive uses.[v]

In recent years the planning and natural resources management sectors have undergone a cultural shift toward integrated, collaborative planning. Leaders in water resources and urban planning are calling for a return to the holistic management of our water and land resources. The American Planning Association’s Water Task Force states: “water should be a core planning theme if we are to be effective in addressing the needs of communities in today’s world”.[vi] This approach is gaining momentum and recognition in California, due in part to a heightened sense of urgency as a result of climate change, the state’s growing population, and mounting equity concerns. Integrated solutions are being implemented across the state – both arising organically and in response to new policy drivers (such as the Integrated Regional Water Management, Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, and the environmental justice element of General Plans).

Moving Forward

Despite recent advancement toward integration, there is still work to be done. A comprehensive planning approach at the watershed scale is needed to address our natural and built environment as a socio-ecological system rather than a collection of disjointed parts.[vii]

Water and land use management inherently reflects geographical differences, dominant ideologies, political preferences, economic conditions and available technology. Thus, the appropriate scale for change is at the local level. Strategies for local implementation that reflect watershed-scale processes and conditions will be far more effective than a standardized top-down approach alone.

The current political and cultural atmosphere, favoring a myopic view of challenges and single-issue immediate solutions, suggests the need for additional capacity-building in leadership, education, and policy change. Yet deeply intertwined issues require an integrated systems-approach to solutions. Through collaboration and integration, practitioners can gain a better understanding of water availability and impacts of growth. They will then be more likely to choose smarter urban planning options to decrease negative impacts on our natural resources, such as in-fill development, urban water use efficiency, conservation and reuse structures, and preserving open space.[viii] Local integration can then inform state-level policy.

Now is the time for community foundations to embrace opportunities for advancing integrated water management and land use planning. There is no simple solution or single approach to accomplish this goal; it will take many actions at multiple scales to equitably integrate water management and land use planning. A favorite adage of leaders in the integrated water management sector is: “There’s no silver bullet, but a lot of silver buckshot.”

C.     Water, Land Use, and Equity

LGC uses the broad definition of equity based on work by the D5 Coalition, Racial Equity Tools Glossary, and UC Berkeley which states, “Equity is the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups.” When applied to this project, an equity lens addresses each community’s access to resources, voice in decision-making, and benefits from water and land use practices. Equity considerations are especially focused on historically disenfranchised and/or underrepresented communities.

California as a state acknowledges that government action – at both the state and local level – is necessary to mitigate the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change, and ensure our communities are resilient enough to adapt to changing conditions. While climate leadership at the national level is stalled, Californians and their elected leaders are moving forward, embracing the need for strong climate policy. California continues to experience economic growth while maintaining its aggressive climate policy. Yet this economic growth is not evenly distributed across the state or its communities. The income gap is growing, and cost of living is increasing at an alarming rate.  Although on average Californians earn 11% more than the rest of the nation, the state’s cost of living is disproportionate, with 44% higher mortgage payments.[ix] Income disparities and affordability are at the forefront of social justice, and closely tied to water management and land use planning. Economic development is largely influenced by available resources and decisions governing how those resources are used, who benefits from water management and land use decisions, and the economic development associated with these decisions, which is the heart of the water/land use/equity nexus.

Figure 1. Equity in water and land use occurs when water management, land use, and economic development decisions are aligned, and when the benefits and impacts of those decisions are distributed fairly.

Land use and water management decisions historically influenced by bias and institutional racism limit access for some groups to natural resources, social capital, and decision-making, while disproportionately benefiting others. Planning and decision-making through an equity lens ensures that all communities are represented in the planning and decision-making process, and will benefit from the results. This includes development patterns, affordable housing, fair zoning, infrastructure investments, and adequate water and wastewater services. State agencies, local governments, and engaged stakeholders can work together to ensure equity moving forward. To do so, they must also address persistent inequities from past decisions such as barriers to public participation in decision-making and the subsequent unequal burden these decisions place on underrepresented communities. The state can achieve equity by establishing policies that prioritize communities facing disadvantages through funding and technical assistance. This may include workforce development that benefits residents and prevents displacement. Increasing access to opportunity will decrease the equity gap and start to reconcile past decisions that have led to inequity.

Perhaps the two greatest inequities facing California are: a) the housing gap and b) the human right to water. The State of California is in a housing crisis. Experts say California needs to build 100,000 more houses per year than they currently are to meet demand. Affordable housing is especially lacking in the state, most acutely in economic centers such as San Francisco, the Silicon Valley, and Los Angeles. There is a 1.5 million housing unit deficit between the low-income population and the houses they can afford. As cost of living increases, residents can no longer afford to live in the communities they call home. Local governments are struggling to recruit developers to build affordable housing in their communities. As public agencies and developers rush to meet housing demand, there is a significant risk that new housing will follow a sprawl development pattern, rather than meeting the sustainability targets necessary to ensure community resilience (e.g., compact, in-fill, proximity to transit, preserving permeability and greenspace, etc.). This approach reinforces existing inequities by contributing to longer commute times, poor air quality, increased risk of flooding from stormwater runoff, and increased water costs. Housing and water are inextricably linked. Communities cannot grow without reliable water supply. Communities with inadequate housing, often also have inadequate water and sewer service, contributing to a continuous feedback cycle of inequity.

California was the first state in the US to legislatively acknowledge the “Human Right to Water” with AB 685 which requires safe, clean, affordable, and accessible drinking water for the state’s nearly 40 million residents. Though state law recognizes this basic human right, it does not codify how to meet the needs of California’s more than 1 million people currently lacking access to safe and reliable drinking water, or the 1.7 million Californians lacking access to complete plumbing facilities. Those lacking water access are often in the same communities that have been historically disenfranchised and/or underrepresented. African Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to live without adequate plumbing. Rural, unincorporated, and tribal lands in particular lack water and wastewater infrastructure.[x] Lack of drinking water and sanitation acutely impacts social mobility.

“Those already burdened by economic, environmental, or health challenges are especially vulnerable. Typically low income, communities of color, children, and the elderly. The impacts of water stress on physical and mental health, child development, and economic mobility are cumulative, and often compounded by underlying challenges such as poverty and unemployment – two other common symptoms of institutionalized racism and injustice.”                                                                                                                 – US Water Alliance

Communities without an adequate and reliable water supply cannot recruit new businesses to promote economic growth, nor can they increase housing stock to accommodate population growth. Communities lacking financial resources to invest in water infrastructure or to purchase water supply from other regions will continue to struggle, while communities with the financial resources to ensure adequate water for growth will continue to grow and thrive. Communities with restricted resources – which are disproportionally rural or communities of color – also struggle to invest in land use projects that will improve quality of life for residents and water quality, such as creek-side parks and stormwater infrastructure. California’s more affluent urban and coastal communities have the resources to invest in water infrastructure projects to ensure further economic development and to meet housing demand.  The housing crisis and human right to water are two closely intertwined inequities that will require effort and coordination between community advocates, local governments, state agencies, and policy-makers at the local and state level.

Equity is gaining emphasis in both public policy and social consciousness. The shift is exemplified through California’s Human Right to Water bill (AB 685), equity considerations in General Plans (General Plan Guidelines: 2017 Update) and CEQA’s tribal consultation requirements (AB 52). Despite this progress, additional resources and cultural shifts are necessary to reverse institutionalized bias and inequities, and to adequately meet the needs of communities facing disadvantages. Low-income communities and communities of color are at greatest risk for economic and health consequences of climate change. If policy makers are not purposeful in working through an equity lens, climate policies can exacerbate existing inequities.

California has an opportunity to address historic inequities. Water and land use decisions are critical components to ending the cycle of injustice, and will be the primary catalysts for change. State policy requiring equity in all policies (especially water and land use policy), along with guidance to implementing agencies, will help prevent future inequitable policymaking. Scaling out local equity campaigns and projects taking place at the grassroots level, such as the Community Water Center’s “Community Water Leaders Network” will help hold local institutions accountable, while also identifying existing inequities that must be resolved. The “Community Water Leaders Network” program coordinated a leadership cohort of local water board members to address the Human Right to Water in the San Joaquin Valley. This model could be used at the statewide level to improve transparency and accountability of decision-makers, encourage information sharing, and ensure active participation in the processes that directly affect communities throughout the state. These types of efforts help hold local institutions accountable, while also identifying existing inequities that must be resolved. Successful implementation will require building trust among historically underrepresented or underserved communities, building broad coalitions, and investing in water and land use projects that include the voices of all impacted parties.

D.    Methods

Purpose & Goals

The Local Government Commission thoroughly understands both the water management and land use planning sectors in California, as well as the complex intersections between the two. Beyond conducting a situational analysis and providing recommendations to the CFWI, LGC’s ultimate goal in conducting this work is to establish integrated water and land use planning as the norm across California. LGC and the CFWI hope to create a bridge between regional situation analyses, best practice case studies, and scaling up integration to statewide action. LGC followed a mixed-methods approach to identify the primary challenges and barriers that prevent integration across sectors, and identify strategies and best practices for integrating sustainable water resource management and urban planning activities across sectors.

Research Approach

LGC’s approach begin with a literature review and synthesis of the best available ideas on integrated water management and urban planning, as well as known barriers to implementation. With this foundation of knowledge, LGC conducted interviews and focus groups with water and land use experts across the state to further identify specific local challenges and potential solutions. We then distilled the most effective tools and strategies for overcoming the key challenges to integration at both regional and statewide levels.

Background Research

LGC used the existing body of literature, including the organization’s own institutional knowledge, to inform each phase of the project – including determining interviewees, developing interview questions, evaluating planning documents, and identifying themes for data coding and analysis. As part of the literature review process, LGC created a database of over 50 documents relevant to water and land use integration. Documents – including research reports, journal articles, and guidance documents – are organized by media type and subject area, and also include a description of the content as well as a live weblink to the item. LGC is providing this curated database free to the public, as a valuable resource to help advance water and land use integration across the state. – making it easy to share on foundation websites and other mediums.

Planning Document Evaluation

LGC compiled a database of all the counties and municipalities within each of the five project regions. This database is also available to the public as a reference document. One representative county for each region and three representative municipalities within that county were selected to conduct an evaluation of major planning documents. LGC used CalEnviroscreen 3.0 scores to identify communities that are disproportionately burdened by, and vulnerable to, multiple sources of pollution. CalEnviroScreen analyzes environmental, health, and socioeconomic information to produce scores for every census tract in the state. Through the tool LGC chose cities that included census tracts identified as the most burdened (95 -100th percentile), least burdened (in the 1 – 5th percentile), and averagely burdened (50-55th percentile).  For these “representative” communities, the planning document database includes live links to relevant water management and land use planning documents. These planning documents were then reviewed to evaluate the degree to which they are aligned or misaligned, and to identify opportunities for plan integration. Results were incorporated into the “current status of integration” and “opportunities” sections of this report and the five regional profiles. A more in-depth representative analysis is included in the appendix for reference. The database of municipalities is also available to the public as a reference document.

Regional Profiles

LGC researched key features of each region to develop each of five regional profiles and online story maps. These documents include background research such as regional demographics, water management data, land use planning information, as well as information gleaned from expert interviews and focus groups such as equity issues, challenges to integration, strategies/opportunities, and key recommendations. These profiles supplement this report and can also be used as standalone documents. Brief case studies will be included in both the regional profiles and this report, and will highlight examples of water, land use and equity integration around the state. These case studies will show the reader real life scenarios that address integrated planning, and allow them to apply context to our research. Please note, some case studies may showcase examples from outside the service area of the community foundations – but were chosen because the strategy is relevant to the region.

These too are available on LGC’s website as a free resource to further advance water and land use integration.

Expert Interviews & Focus Groups

LGC conducted interviews with a total of 29 water and/or land use experts and practitioners from across the state, to gain in-depth insights into local water management and land use conditions for each region, as well as to explore primary challenges and possible solutions to improve integration. LGC targeted at least two water expert and two land use expert interviews in each region. Interviewees included practitioners from jurisdictions with exemplary programs and processes that can serve as models for other communities, as well as from communities needing additional support to encourage equitable integration. Three focus group discussions supplemented the interviews, held during important statewide events to leverage opportunities to bring together community leaders around this topic.

Data Analysis

All interview and focus group data was imported into Dedoose, a sophisticated qualitative research application, and analyzed using coding methods to identify commonalities across regions, recurring themes, and possible strategies for improving integration.

Coding criteria were informed by the literature review, background research, and institutional expertise. LGC remained open and receptive to the voices of community foundation representatives when determining coding criteria and analyzing the results. Data were first coded into general categories, then recurring themes, and finally specific granular topics. Categories, themes, and topics are completely independent of each other, rather than corresponding to one another in a hierarchy. This approach allowed for the greatest complexity in analysis.

Categories Themes Topics
Case Study Accountability Affordability
Challenge/Barrier Capacity Agriculture
Need Collaboration Climate
Opportunity Coordination Conservation & Efficiency
Recommendations Data & Information/Research Development
Resource Disadvantaged Communities/Equity Dialogue/Communication
Strategy Economics Drought
Governance and/or Representation Economic
Incentives Flood
Infrastructure Groundwater
Integration/Alignment Growth
Jurisdiction Habitat
Language Housing
Mindset/Conceptual Understanding Implementation
Multiple Benefits Monitoring
Planning Jobs
Policy Land Use
Public Engagement/Education Leadership Development
Regulation Legislation
Relationships Reliability
Technical Assistance Schools
Specific Plans
Unincorporated Areas
Water Quality
Water Supply

Codes were analyzed for several factors, including high frequency, low frequency, ratios, co-occurrences, and descriptors. This analysis generated case studies, challenges/barriers, opportunities, strategies and recommendations to highlight for each region and the state as a whole. LGC then relied on institutional knowledge and expertise gained through our research to interpret and present the research findings. Data exports from Dedoose (charts, tables, and plots) are included in the appendix for reference transparency.


A.    Statewide Integration

The history of water and land use planning in the United States and California has evolved from a long period that moved from activity driven by regional politics and commercial players, to dynamic regulation, to the present where there is an emphasis on comprehensive planning and environmental protection. Currently, California is moving towards a more holistic management of our water and land resources that recognizes the interconnectivity between the traditionally fragmented sectors.

In fact, a comprehensive planning approach that considers water and related land resources as a system rather than as a combination of fragmented parts is a core principle of the Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) approach, which the California legislature passed in 2005, and regional jurisdictions have begun to implement. IRWM has many expected and potential benefits, including improved cost effectiveness and outcomes for planning and management of water quality and supply, and better distribution of water between ecosystem and consumptive uses. While water management remains highly fragmented in the U.S., numerous states are moving toward IRWM approaches at the state policy level, including California.

Conversations with experts around the state who work in the water and land use planning sectors revealed some important facts about the current status of statewide integration:

  • A change in mindset may require legal drivers or incentives
  • The new generation “gets it” in terms of the land use & water integration
  • There are currently no state incentives for people to work together on water and land use on a regional basis
  • Elected bodies who are driving disconnect & sprawl don’t see integration as a priority
  • There is a lack of understanding of water usage related to agriculture and housing
  • Where is the venue for the conversation? We aren’t “talking across the room.”
  • Common terminology across sectors and regions doesn’t exist

Furthermore, across all data sources, the same five themes arose over and over again: planning, governance and representation, coordination, economics, and policy integration and alignment. These are the themes that foundations and other stakeholders at the state, regional, and local level should be striving to address in their work. Although “equity” was marked as a recurring theme throughout the interview and focus group conversations, this was primarily due to LGC’s guiding questions. The answers given revealed a lack of acknowledgement and inclusion of equity considerations [We structured this report – challenges, needs, opportunities, and recommendations around these same themes].

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Within these themes, the highest-ranking topics in order of priority, were water supply, development, land use, water quality, groundwater, growth, housing, affordability, dialogue and conversation, and implementation & monitoring. Many of the challenges, needs, opportunities, and recommendations center around these topics.

A.    Regional Integration

Profiles were created to provide region-specific information with the intent of guiding each region to ensure the equitable integration of water and land use planning. These profiles outline demographics, water management, and land use planning, allowing for comparison among regions. They also provide context for integration using the information culminated, including challenges, strategies, recommendations, and case studies specific to each region. The profiles aim to encourage coordination and integration while recognizing the unique characteristics and challenges posed by the regions.

Integration in the San Francisco Region

In the San Francisco region, key decisions regarding land use are made by local government officials, namely, City Council members and the Board of Supervisors. Additionally, there are several active coalitions, networks and organizations that advocate for various land use planning initiatives, such as Shore Up Marin and the Bay Area Climate Adaptation Network. Regional water decisions are made by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency, and various water districts. General plans stand as the most important planning documents for land use and water decisions in the region, with a particular focus on the zoning ordinances included in the general plans. Integration in the region is difficult due to limited staff capacity within agencies, as well as the high number of local public agencies that operate in every jurisdiction. However, there are places where integration happens, such as with the Shore Up Marin coalition, the Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency, and is encouraged in the Plan Bay Area 2040 report. Moving forward, the San Francisco region should focus on aligning future development plans with increased housing, transportation and open space needs, while also accounting for accurate water demand and reliability for an increasing population.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT CASE STUDY: “Designing Our Own Solutions for Resiliency Planning”, The People’s Plan (P+SET)


Every community has residents with the skills, experiences, and strategies needed to solve the local and regional problems they face. As part of the Resilient by Design Bay Area challenge, the Permaculture + Social Equity team (P+SET) created a social design process which builds community capacity and climate change literacy to address the challenges of coastal adaptation and resilience planning, particularly in vulnerable communities that have experienced generations of marginalization and exclusion.

The P+SET design concept approach is a Community Partnership Process (CPP) to establish local leadership across generations by partnering with residents. The CPP specifically designs programs for individual communities based on their unique assets and needs. Asset-based methodology for sustainable community development focuses on using a community’s assets as a means of building local solutions to challenges. In this process, community members are actors with agency. Local residents including individuals, groups, associations, and institutions bring knowledge, skills, and passions as strengths to the process to influence their physical space, foster exchanges, and foreground culture, history, and community vision. Based on community perspectives, P+SET provided the technical expertise and education to give members the skills to interpret and solve immediate challenges (such as flooding in a particular location). Small scale projects will be implemented leading to larger more elaborate collaborative designs.

P+SET piloted this capacity building program in Marin City. With steep hills on one side and developed areas and Highway 101 and the Richardson Bay on the other, Marin City chronically floods. During the CPP process, it became clear that significant sediment loading in the stormwater conveyance created risk for the residents. The community partner-led tours showed the many sites where erosion causes said sediment load. It was obvious any recommended pipe resizing/infrastructure spending would only be temporarily effective until headwaters erosion mitigation work is performed. This process allowed the community to enhance their existing advocacy practices and literacy to more effectively engage with municipal, regulatory, and regional stakeholders – and resulted in a “People’s Plan” that authentically reflects the aspirations and intentions of the residents who live there. The group will also continue to work with Marin County Flood Control District Zone 3 to address the larger scale problems such as the flooding of Highway 101 and the siltation of the retention basin as well as addressing the inadequate stormwater infrastructure.

The Community Partnership Process is applicable for any community with permanent human settlement.

Integration in the Silicon Valley Region

In the Silicon Valley region, the County Planning Commission, City Council, city planning departments, and the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County are all key decision makers for land use decisions. Water decisions are made by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency, private water companies, and various water districts. Local experts have identified the most important tool for improving integration as collaboration. Some integration is occurring between water agencies in the region, but doesn’t extend to local land use planning efforts. Both San Mateo & Santa Clara county engage in integration activities. For example, the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District has shared staff with the county, and are able to provide input on land use planning with a strong water resource perspective. In many parts of the region, however, there is a lack of emphasis or interest in integrated planning. Developing leaders who are interested in integration, as well as increasing regional collaboration will allow the Silicon Valley to meet current and future needs for all residents.

COLLABORATION CASE STUDY: Creating Partnerships to Solve a Water Crisis, City of East Palo Alto


In July 2016, East Palo Alto issued a moratorium on development because the city couldn’t guarantee that there would be enough water for new projects. East Palo Alto’s current water woes began in 1984 when the SFPUC entered into a contract to sell Hetch Hetchy reservoir water to cities and water agencies on the Peninsula. East Palo Alto, which historically has been low-income, had only just been incorporated the year before, and its water needs were managed by a county agency that later dissolved. They were allocated the smallest slice of the water pie. Since then, the tech boom has created demands for housing and office space that are now making East Palo Alto a desirable place for development. In order to address the issue, city officials began the hunt to find new water sources – which would result in new, groundbreaking partnerships.

East Palo Alto were good water stewards. Gross per capita water consumption in the city in 2015-16 was 58 gallons a day, one of the lowest in the region (and state). The city doesn’t have big parks or golf courses that use lots of water, either. Potential gains from increased conservation would be minimal.

City officials began to look outward. They knew that other cities in the region had more water than they needed. They needed two municipalities to agree to transfer their water – something that had never been done before in the region. They eventually focused their attention on two cities: Mountain View and Palo Alto.

Mountain View hadn’t come close to using their daily allotment of water in 30 years – and they worked out a plan with East Palo Alto to transfer a water right of 1 million gallons a day for a one-time fee of $5 million. Mountain View san an advantage in selling some of their water – they had contracts with SFPUC that stipulate purchasing a minimum of 8.9 million gallons of water per day, and the city was only using 7 million gallons a day. This groundbreaking deal was advantageous to all.

The city also got creative with funding the water purchase. To start, East Palo Alto paid $470,000 from its general fund. Another $1.53 million was split between three big developers: the Sobrato Organization, 2020 Bay Road and The Primary School, a project of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The Sobrato Organization also agreed to loan the city $1 million and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative gifted an additional $2 million. East Palo Alto city officials needed to secure one more deal. They struck a deal with Palo Alto to collaborate on three different projects, one of which was a water transfer agreement of half a million gallons a day from Palo Alto’s own allocation of water. The other two projects were a bridge project and traffic signal synchronization. Palo Alto did not seek payment for the water transfer because the water deal was part of multiple cooperative projects between the cities.

By creating these unique and co-beneficial projects with their neighbors, the city of East Palo Alto can now move forward with the sustainable growth plans envisioned in their General Plan.

Integration in the Central Valley Region

The Central Valley region includes several important land use decision makers, such as the City Council, Board of Supervisors, Local Agency Formation Commission, city planning departments, and developers. Key water decision makers include water districts, private water companies, the agriculture industry, and state entities such as the Department of Water Resources. General plans are the most important documents in the region – with Community plans being the most important for unincorporated communities. Local experts also highlighted transportation plans, including the Sustainable Communities Strategy element, as important in the planning process. There is an historic disconnect between water professionals and city planners in the region, which makes integration difficult. But some integration does occur, most often in Fresno County, where water and land use intersect the most, and where current initiatives such as regional transportation planning and general plan revisions actively encourage integrated planning. The Central Valley region must also consider the effects the planning process will have on the agriculture industry and the significant open space in the region. Several communities in the region have become more active in the environmental justice movement and want to be part of the planning process, particularly in regard to drinking water quality, and the lack of development to support existing communities. Creation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies provide the Central Valley region with an opportunity to connect water supply & allocation to population growth and development boundaries. As such, local experts identified planning & coordination as the most important integration activities needed in the region.

PLANNING CASE STUDY: Preserving Land for Natural Groundwater Recharge, City of Fresno General Plan


Until very recently, the City of Fresno has been dependent on groundwater for about 88% of its water supply. Unfortunately, the rate of groundwater recharge has been inadequate to keep up with the amount being withdrawn. Over the past 100 years, the city has lost 100 feet of water from the aquifer.

The City of Fresno recently struck an agreement to use Fresno Irrigation District canals to distribute water to Fresno Flood Control District Basins throughout the city for groundwater recharge during dry months, the city has budgeted over $850,000 for constructing the connections and making necessary improvements such as flow monitoring to allow for efficient recharge. The city has had ongoing projects with the neighboring city of Clovis, the Fresno Irrigation District and the Fresno Metro Flood Control District for groundwater recharge. This partnership is delivering an average of about 60,000 acre-feet of water to underground storage every year.

According to the city’s Urban Water Management Plan, as urbanization covers once open land with pavement, roads and buildings, an ever increasing volume of rain water can no longer soak through the soil to the groundwater aquifer. While there is enough storage capacity in the aquifer to serve the city’s needs, natural recharge is not able to keep pace. To replace the loss of natural recharge capacity, more intentional recharge facilities need to be created.

The city’s 2014 General Plan supports the use of a natural drainage system in new development to capture and infiltrate water on site. This may be paid for by the city alone or in partnership with the Fresno Irrigation and Flood Control Districts. Most importantly, the new General Plan and development code, for the first time, limits the expansion of growth on undeveloped areas and redirects it to existing areas. This is accomplished through policies that support infill development and that establish minimum rather than maximum densities. These policies are projected to slow the urbanization of the city’s sphere of influence and protect lands currently available for natural recharge for an additional 25 years.

Because current groundwater recharge efforts are not keeping up with the current drinking water needs and are seriously depleted, the city is preparing to augment existing groundwater and surface water supplies by bringing water from the Kings River to a newly constructed southeast surface water treatment facility. The new water treatment plant will soon supply 53 percent of Fresno residents needs from treated water drawn from the San Joaquin and Kings River. It is expected that this will enable Fresno to meet requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Integration in the Los Angeles Region

Land use decisions are made by the Board of Supervisors, City Councils, planning commissions, and planning departments in the Los Angeles region. Those decisions can be influenced by nonprofit organizations, such as the Climate Action Resolve, the Mayor’s office and certain active homeowners associations. Water decision makers include water agencies, regional water quality boards, and public works departments. General plans drive most of the planning discussion in this region, with significant importance placed on zoning, transportation and significant ecological areas. With 200+ water agencies and overlapping jurisdictions, integration in the region is complex. However, the Los Angeles region has made progress towards integrated planning, as evidenced by plans completed by the Mayor’s office and the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative. The next step for this region is to ensure that these plans are implemented with collaboration and equity in mind.

MULTI-BENEFIT CASE STUDY: Ballona Creek Revitalization, City of Culver City

Ballona Creek is a channelized 8-mile waterway that winds its path through the city of Culver City, before it drains approximately 130 square miles of the Ballona Creek Watershed as it joins the Pacific Ocean at the Santa Monica Bay. Due to its natural meandering, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to straighten and cement the creek for flood control purposes in 1935. Fast-forward to today, and the topography has now been transformed to be covered by cement, leaving only a very small percentage of wetlands in this watershed. Covered and cemented streets for cars, adds to runoff and pollutant infiltration, which ultimately makes its way to the Ballona Creek, and eventually to the Pacific Ocean.

During dry weather the creek flows with urban runoff; the water level and speed increase dramatically during storms. That runoff contains all sorts of pollutants from our air, yards, businesses, schools, and streets – trash, animal waste, oil and grease, pesticides and fertilizers, industrial chemicals. Large items, such as shopping carts are often dumped in the creek. Algae accumulates in some places and graffiti in others.

The main goals and ultimate vision for the creek restoration project are focused on “Revitalization,” or a return to a more natural aesthetic state. The creek is already seen by many as a hidden gem and an oasis in the harsh concrete environs of the greater Los Angeles region. Much like the Los Angeles River, although at a much smaller scale, the Ballona Creek has the potential to help heal and transform the city which surrounds it by providing flood protection, increasing biodiversity, and adding a much needed multi-modal transportation infrastructure (pedestrians, bicyclists, kayaks).

Stakeholders have witnessed progress being made, such as the Milton Street Park project (a $3MM linear park) adjacent the bike trail, which has added aesthetic appeal and a much needed rest stop for users of Ballona Creek trail. Significant bike path improvements in recent years include native landscaping, artist-designed gates, benches, drinking fountains, murals and other projects by public agencies and local non-profit organizations. Other opportunities include the integration of an educational component to the creek, i.e., using the creek as an outdoor classroom. This is the sort of necessary measures which must be pursued, in order to ensure that the younger generation better understands and appreciates what the cree­­­­k has to offer to their neighborhood, but even more importantly to the region at large.

Integration in the San Diego Region

San Diego’s land use decisions are made by city & county officials, and at the regional level. Planning doesn’t happen at the neighborhood level, which is where you most often see the inequities. Most water decisions are made by city departments, where there is a fragmentation of water agencies, and it’s extremely difficult to keep track of jurisdictions and responsibilities. Like most regions in California, general plans are the most important planning documents, and conversations surrounding integrated planning occur during plan updates and revisions. Local experts have identified planning as the most important step towards integrated planning in the region. Regional land use planning is fairly well aligned, but there is very little integration at the local level. Regional climate collaboratives, in particular, are trying to move integrated planning beyond city fragmentation. The San Diego region should develop strong leaders and build political will for integration, while working to streamline and consolidate the planning process to improve local integration.

COLLABORATION CASE STUDY: Innovative Partnerships & Initiatives, San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative

The San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative (SDRCC) was launched in 2012 as a network designed to support public agencies with preparing for the impacts of climate change and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The San Diego region faces a number of threats exacerbated by climate change, including diminishing water supplies, increasing wildfire risks, rising temperatures, and increasing coastal flooding and erosion due to sea-level rise.

SDRCC supports local governments and regional agencies across San Diego County to respond to these impacts, reduce emissions, and foster a clean energy and vibrant economy and community. SDRCC was initially formed by five public agencies (the Cities of Chula Vista and San Diego, the County of San Diego, the Port of San Diego, and the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG); the University of San Diego (USD); the region’s energy utility, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E); and The San Diego Foundation (TSDF).

SDRCC’s primary mission is twofold: to serve as a network for public agencies in the San Diego region where they can share expertise, leverage resources, and advance solutions that facilitate climate change planning; and to raise the profile of the region’s leadership through partnerships with academia, nonprofits, businesses, and community leaders.

SDRCC provides a venue for cross-jurisdictional and cross-sectoral dialogue. The collaborative organizes regular workshops and trainings for local decision-makers on climate-related topics of interest, as well as provides direct technical assistance to jurisdictions in the region. By leveraging templates, best practices, and innovative ideas for meeting climate mitigation and preparedness goals, the SDRCC is working to build a community of practice and expand local expertise and engagement in addressing climate change. SDRCC also gives the San Diego region a voice at the state level, through its involvement in the Alliance of Regional Collaboratives for Climate Adaptation, or ARCCA. In addition to coordinating stakeholders and providing networking opportunities, SDRCC has also helped build new innovative partnerships in furtherance of specific climate-related goals and initiatives, such as the Climate Science Alliance.

The Climate Science Alliance – South Coast is a partnership of individuals and organizations focused on sharing ecosystem and community-based approaches to resilience and promoting adaptation on a regional scale. The Alliance includes partners from tribal, federal, state, and local government, universities and researchers, conservation organizations and foundations, among others. SDRCC, along with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the California Wildlife Foundation, and the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation, provided initial support to found the Alliance and continues to help develop the Alliance. The Alliance brings together scientists and natural resource managers with decision-makers to ensure that relevant science informs policy, and that research and conservation efforts are coordinated within a broader context of landscape-scale adaptation. It also works to engage the community and educate children about climate science through art and in classrooms.

[i] LGC, 1991

[ii] LGC, 2007

[iii] Innes et al., 2006, Getches 1998

[iv] LGC 1991, Margerum 1999

[v] Najjar, K., & Collier, C. R., Integrated Water Resources Management, Water Resources Impact, 2011 13(3), 3-8

[vi] APA 2015

[vii] Hanak et al., 2011, Easter et. al. 2006

[viii] LGC 1991, 2007

[ix] Shellenberger, Michael. “Number One In Poverty, California Isn’t Our Most Progressive State — It’s Our Most Racist One.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 5 June 2018,;

[x] (US Water Alliance).

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