Water for Life: Toward an Equitable and Sustainable Water Future for California

FEBRUARY 1, 2014

Against the backdrop of the Governor’s recent drought declaration, an overflow crowd of more than 200 of the top thinkers, doers and decision-makers on water policy joined together at UC Davis School of Law for the Planning and Conservation League’s 2014 Environmental Symposium. This year’s event focused on moving California towards a more equitable and sustainable water future.

2014 PCL Symposium logo

The program kicked-off with plenary panel exploring varying visions for water planning for California, with a lively debate over the need to prioritize where we invest our resources versus more of an ‘all of the above’ approach (that meet certain criteria) to water planning; despite some significant disagreements among the speakers, there was consensus reached around breaking down barriers between sectors and working collaboratively wherever we’re able to solve California’s water crisis. Next up was an equally compelling plenary discussion about prospects for a 2014 water bond spearheaded by the authors of two bond proposals, Senator Lois Wolk and Assembly Member Anthony Rendon, as well as a presentation of public opinion polling on the bond. While data shows an increasing appetite for approval of a major water bond for California, there will need to be a unified front and massive outreach to ensure passage of such a measure. Participants were largely supportive of the Wolk and Rendon bonds (and agree either is superior to what is currently on the ballot), but some important differences between the two raise significant concerns still must be solved to move a green bond forward.

Following the morning plenary sessions, guests were treated to an awards luncheon where some of the most profound accomplishments in the water world were recognized, including California American Water for their San Clemente Dam Removal and Carmel River Reroute project; former Assemblyman Mike Eng for his historic Human Right to Water bill; and Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins and Assembly Member Mark Stone for their coastal protection efforts this past session. A short clip of “Thirsty for Justice: The struggle for the human right to water” was previewed for attendees, before they went on to choose from a wide array of water-related breakout sessions that ranged from water pricing and the water-energy nexus to what’s next for coastal protection efforts and the public trust doctrine. Participants then reconvened for a final discussion debating differing approaches for restoring the Bay-Delta, including the current administration BDCP proposal, an alternative portfolio approach that focuses on more regional water solutions to water, to the consensus near-term projects approach being spearheaded by PCL and others that seek to achieve immediate benefits for restoring critical ecosystems and safeguarding communities. The event was book-ended by a pre-Symposium reception for sponsors and speakers on Friday evening, as well as a post-event wine-and cheese soiree that provided guests a chance to unwind and build the relationships that will be needed to promote more sustainable and equitable water solutions for California.

PCL’s 2014 Symposium was one of our most successful ever, and it would not have been possible without our many sponsors, the top-flight presenters who joined us, an amazing crew of volunteers, and, of course, the entire PCL family and the engaged attendees who made the day’s dialogue so engaging.


Expert speakers and decision makers brought current information on the adoption of a Bay-Delta plan, statewide funding mechanisms for water, and water access issues for all Californians.

English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner includes the famous verse,

“Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”

That is how things appear in California, bordered by the majestic Pacific Ocean and home to some of the nation’s most iconic rivers, as well as the snowpack of the magnificent Sierra Nevada mountain range. But California’s reality stands in stark contrast to this image. It has become abundantly clear that our current water management practices are not sufficient or conducive to providing a reliable water supply for all Californians while also ensuring the health of our natural resources, and promoting thriving agriculture and industry in the state.

While overcoming these challenges may be daunting, we must now embrace the opportunity to re-envision California’s water policies. A host of solutions exist that will allow us to develop water supplies that are equitable and sustainable – not just for our environment, but for our economy and communities. In many ways, 2014 will be the ‘year of water’ in California as we grapple with the adoption of a Bay-Delta plan, statewide funding mechanisms for water, and water access issues for all Californians. With that in mind, PCL/PCL Foundation are focusing our 2014 Symposium on bringing together California’s environmental, community, business, agency and elected leaders to explore:

  • What’s next for the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and other statewide water planning efforts
  • What the 2014 water bond can and should include
  • How to ensure that all Californians have access to safe, clean water
  • The integration of water policy with land-use, transportation and energy planning
  • The impact of recent judicial decisions on statewide water planning
  • Tools and tactics that can be used to promote more equitable and sustainable water planning
  • How we can mobilize around a shared vision for California’s water future

PCL/PCL Foundation offered a range of sessions related to how CEQA interacts with other environmental laws and policies to create a more sustainable California. In addition to offering legal credit (CLE) for attorneys for several panels we also offer certification maintenance credit (AICP) for planners.

Symposium Materials