California Roundtable on Water & Food Supply Reviews the California Water Action Plan

After five years of deep dialogue, research, and case analysis on key water issues, the California Roundtable on Water & Food Supply (CRWFS) took on a new challenge this past year: assessing a gubernatorial initiative. What happens when you bring the CRWFS Connectivity Approach to bear on one of the state’s most holistic efforts at water management to date? Read on to find out.

Governor Brown’s California Water Action Plan (WAP)[1] is led by a unique multiple-department collaboration including the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). It calls for improved collaboration between state, federal and local governments, regional agencies, tribal governments, and the public and the private sectors. It is ambitious, proactive, innovative, and outlines 10 actions to improve water supply reliability, protect water rights, preserve the integrity of California’s infrastructure, increase stewardship, and lay the groundwork for a sustainable and resilient future (2016 Update).

The WAP’s innovative focus on collaborative solutions is what drew CRWFS to study and provide recommendations for effective implementation of the WAP. Utilizing their holistic framework the Connectivity Approach[2], the Roundtable completed an exhaustive review of the WAP to assess strategic opportunities to support effective implementation of the plan. The Approach focuses on supporting actions that leverage ecological, socioeconomic, and institutional linkages across the system. It serves as a systems thinking framework to help planners and resource managers design and achieve mutual benefits for agricultural, urban, and environmental interests. After many months of exploration and analysis, this unique body of water and food system leaders from across the state presented has released a white paper and a policy planning tool[3] to support continued collaborative and holistic leadership on water management in our state.

CRWFS’ review revealed the following strengths of the WAP:

  • It is a new paradigm that sets a path forward and toward integrated, adaptive, and collaborative management of California water resources, and provides exemplary institutional support for cross-sector collaboration.
  • It offers a consistent framework focused on action and accountability and serves as a guide for integrated water management across the state.
  • It fosters “connected” leadership among high-level managers to coordinate state support of integrated efforts.

The CRWFS recommends the following strategic actions to ensure the ongoing benefits and public support of the WAP during the Brown Administration and beyond:

  1. Institutionalize the WAP. CRWFS identified two pathways to achieve this goal: linking the WAP update process to that of the California Water Plan (CWP), or proposing separate initiatives to recognize and sustain the WAP over time.
  2. Promote investment beyond state government. In addition to leveraging the concerted stakeholder input of the CWP, rigorous community outreach efforts are needed to build broad support for water stewardship at all levels.
  3. Continue to refine the framework and develop metrics to measure and report success. As we move into the hard work of implementation, the development and application of metrics to demonstrate progress is critical to the WAP’s ongoing success.
  4. Be a leader in fostering “connected leadership.” California’s water system is constantly evolving and fraught with uncertainty. Leadership for our uncertain future requires new vision, resolve, and unique, interdisciplinary skills. Connected leaders need a whole-systems vision for the management of the State’s water resources for the 21st Century.

As we move into a new administration, it’s worth looking more deeply at this last recommendation. What does connected leadership look like?
Connected leadership requires a deep understanding of the interrelationships between all components of our complex hydrologic system to promote integrated solutions. It also takes courage: it requires a willingness to act boldly in the face of uncertainty, and the capacity to experiment with new approaches, assess results, and call for thoughtful change when experiments are not working. Cultivating this new kind of connected, collaborative, and courageous leadership will be required across all levels of our water system to truly catalyze a more integrated approaches to water management. Fostering this kind of leadership will require modeling and institutional support at the highest levels across sectors that includes mentoring, training, and creative incentives for experimentation and risk-taking.

The CRWFS commends the Brown Administration’s leadership and call for new levels of connected resource management. The WAP is an important step in responding to the public’s longstanding desire for state agencies to work anew together, to move beyond managing resources in isolation from one another, and to provide all Californians and the environment we cherish with a reliable and resilient water supply. With ongoing leadership, attention, and institutional support in the four strategic action areas identified by the CRWFS analysis, the WAP can evolve from a visionary instrument to the seedbed of a distinctive paradigm shift in California.

Upon completion, the CRWFS presented their findings to key state department leaders and directed a formal letter and full WAP package to Governor Brown.



[1] California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Food & Agriculture. (January 2014.). California Water Action Plan.

[3] The “success spectrum” exercise used in part 1 of this policy worksheet is based on the open source tool kit developed by Eugene Eric Kim. This and other collaborative planning tools are available at