Executive Summary

California’s growing population, our $1.9 trillion economy and our natural resources all require clean, reliable and affordable water. Our extremely limited federal, state and local budgets mean we cannot afford to make investment decisions that will not produce results.

PCL’s Water Investment Strategy for California Water (PDF) identifies the most cost-effective, environmentally beneficial and socially acceptable water management strategies. It directs public investments to local planned and implemented programs to increase regional water self-sufficiency. This Investment Strategy will serve as our framework for sponsorship and support of the next state water bond.

Our Investment Strategy analyzed a wide range of management options, from conservation and recycling to transfers, desalination and building new dams. The Strategy was developed in a fully open and inclusionary process. All drafts were posted for comment on the PCL website. Input from two public workshops helped guide development of the Strategy. Each of the recommendations is fully documented by multiple, credible sources.

The table below demonstrates that we can more than meet California’s water supply needs with the Strategy’s identified priority investments.

Additional Needs Million acre-feet
Population Increase 2.0-2.4
Environmental Restoration 1.0
Total additional needs 3.0-3.4
First Priority Options Million acre-feet
Urban Water Conservation 2.0-2.3
Agricultural Water Conservation At least 0.3-0.6
Recycled Water 1.5
Groundwater Treatment and Desalination At least 0.29
Total First Priority Potential At least 4.09-4.69

Other Options to Meet California’s Water Needs

Water Transfers

Water transfers will continue to be a significant strategy for meeting needs. However, they can also harm third parties and the environment. Therefore the Investment Strategy sets forth conditions needed to ensure transfers will not harm areas of origin, areas through which the water is conveyed, and areas receiving the water.

The Delta

The Investment Strategy looked at current proposals to increase reliance on additional exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta Estuary. The recent study done for the Bay Delta Authority demonstrated that there is a 64% chance that the Bay-Delta will experience abrupt changes resulting from flooding or seismic activity within the next fifty years. A reasonable level of investment needs to be made to protect the Delta including existing export capability. However, it is not prudent to risk California’s economy and water supply by relying on increased exports from such a fragile system.

Water Storage

Water storage is another strategy that was reviewed. Groundwater storage, frequently done as part of a conjunctive use program, can have significant benefits as long as the sources of the water are protected.

There is much rhetorical support for new surface water reservoirs. However despite tens of millions of taxpayer dollars spent studying the proposals in the CALFED Record of Decision, not one has been found to be cost effective or environmentally acceptable.

Furthermore, not one of the potential beneficiaries of the proposed surface reservoirs has offered to use their own money to pay for their benefits. The Investment Strategy includes recommendations on how to protect taxpayers by implementing the “beneficiary pays” principle.


Desalination is another option that was reviewed. Groundwater desalination is a cost effective and environmentally beneficial method for restoring groundwater storage capacity and providing additional water supplies. However, unscreened ocean water desalination perpetuates the loss of marine species. Until adequate screening can be accomplished, that type of desalination is not recommended.

Global Climate Change

Potential effects of global climate change on water supply were analyzed. The first priority recommendations – conservation, recycling and groundwater treatment – all meet the criteria as “no regrets actions” (strategies that make sense whatever the impacts of global climate change.)

The Strategy also sets forth important priorities to provide water quality, environmental restoration, social equity, a strong economy, viable agriculture and preservation of open spaces, as well as integrated resource management.

Read the full Water Investment Strategy (PDF). For additional information please contact Jonas Minton.