By Natalia Timakova, May 2015.

As California is facing the risk of a fifth year of drought, and Governor Brown has issued an Executive Order mandating a 25% reduction in water use statewide, there is still no widely used classification that distinguishes a sustainable water management strategy from unsustainable one. On April 21st, at SSV’s headquarters in Santa Clara, The California Water Foundation (CWF), an initiative of The Resources Legacy Fund, presented such a classification for a peer review. The Sustainable Water Management Profile (SWMP) is CWF’s tool to address the problem of unsustainable water management by California water supply agencies. The SWMP identifies key stressors for the water supply and provides standards for evaluating both the possible impact of these stressors and the responses of water agencies to them.

The stressors fall into four categories: Supply, Demand, Environment, and Finance. For example, the Supply theme encompasses stressors like Supply Reliability, Source Water Quality, or Climate Change; the Finance theme contains Financial Risk and Infrastructure Investment stressors. Every stressor has a stress level (high, moderate, or low), based on the metrics evaluated. The stressors, along with the breadth and success of Management Responses to them, constitute the SWM Profile. As Mike Myatt, CWF’s program manager, explained, this profile gives a water supply agency and its region ratings based on points earned for the Management Response for each stressor, weighted by its stress level and additional criteria.

There are four possible ratings:

  • Not Rated: does not satisfy SWM Profile criteria (< 50 points)
  • Silver: very good (50-65 points)
  • Gold: outstanding (66-80 points)
  • Platinum: water agency and its region are operating to achieve sustainability (> 80 points)

Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) and its region, which became CWF’s pilot project, earned 57 out of 100 percentage points and was awarded a Silver rating. “No one is at the Platinum Level now, so Gold is almost ideal and Silver is very, very good,” commented Mike Myatt on the result. But, as Peter Vorster, a senior advisor to the CWF on the SWMP project said, he hopes that the rating will motivate water agencies to revise their practices, implement the recommended sustainability strategies provided by CWF, and proactively address the stressors within their regions.

There are 7,500 potable water purveyors in the state of California, and many agencies responsible for wastewater treatment. Only 1% of the treated wastewater is reused. 43 wastewater treatment plants discharge about 1.6 billion gallons into the Bay or Ocean each year. This water could be further treated and then used for a wide range of applications from irrigation, cooling towers, toilet flushing, construction dust management, street sweeping and aquifer recharge. With further purification, it can also be used for direct potable reuse.

Creating an integrated plan and management process for water has been difficult due to the fragmentation of responsibility across many agencies and private companies. Very few have the mandate for managing potable water and waste water, in addition to aquifer recharge, pollution prevention and clean-up.

The recently established Sustainable Ground Water Management Act mandates that a wide range of stakeholders in a watershed meet together to create an overall management plan. The SWMP will be a significant tool in helping agencies determine what their water resources are (ground, surface, imported, recycled, rain and storm, bay and ocean), and how they should be best stewarded for long term regional resilience.

Some additional information on SWMP project can be found here.