CWAC members are working together to advance projects that protect and enhance California's freshwater resources. Click through the drop-down list below to learn more about our current collective actions.

This state is rich with businesses, non-profits, academics, farmers, agencies, and other thought leaders developing innovative solutions to our freshwater challenges. We believe the best ideas will emerge when these creative minds unite. Not all projects include all members.

American river headwaters

In August 2015, The Nature Conservancy assisted the American River Conservancy in acquiring the American River Headwaters, a 10,115-acre forested property in the Sierra Nevada west of Lake Tahoe. The property is situated directly upstream of French Meadows and Hell Hole Reservoirs, two critical sources of drinking water and hydropower for Sacramento and the surrounding region. The land also has high recreational value – it is traversed by the renowned Western States and Tevis Cup trails, and it supports an outstanding fishery for rainbow trout.

The Nature Conservancy and partners are implementing a landscape-scale forest restoration and research project on the property and adjacent Forest Service lands, referred to as the French Meadows Project. The Project aims to increase the pace and scale of ecologically-based forest and watershed management to reduce the risk of high-severity wildfire, protect water supply, and increase watershed resilience. The Project also includes an important research component. Led by CWAC member The Nature Conservancy, and with support from other CWAC members, researchers will test the hypothesis that thinning small trees and brush from unnaturally dense forests to reduce wildfire risk and increase forest health may increase downstream water supply.

By working with University of California researchers, local water utilities, surrounding landowners like the U.S. Forest Service, and other stakeholders, CWAC members aim to implement ecologically-based practices on a landscape scale, while identifying policy and management best practices that can be implemented in other Sierra watersheds and across the American West.

  • Project lead: The Nature Conservancy
  • Participating CWAC members: MillerCoors | Nestlé Waters North America | The Coca-Cola Company | Anheuser Busch
  • Additional partners: American River Conservancy | Northern Sierra Partnership | Placer County Water Agency | U.S. Forest Service | University of California/Sierra Nevada Research Institute
  • To learn more: Contact David Edelson, Sierra Nevada Project Director, The Nature Conservancy – dedelson@tnc.org

Context-Based Water Targets

As seen in the 2012-2016 California drought, and the recent Southern California floods and mudslides, water-related challenges pose significant risks to business. According to the World Economic Forum, water crises have been among the top five global risks in each of the last seven years.

Corporate water stewardship is a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing critical water challenges and related risks. It is the use and treatment of water in ways that are socially equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically beneficial.

Setting and working towards water-related sustainability targets (such as increasing water efficiency, or decreasing water pollution) is an important component of water stewardship. Water issues are primarily local — each basin has unique challenges that need to be considered when managing water resources. To have meaningful impact at the basin scale, a company’s water targets should address site-specific concerns and include input from local stakeholders.

In collaboration with several partners, the CEO Water Mandate has been developing a methodology for utilizing context-based metrics and setting targets. In 2017, the project team released a concept paper outlining our initial thinking. In 2018, we are pilot testing the draft methodology in basins around the world.

As part of this process, the Mandate is engaging companies with operations in the Santa Ana watershed to test the methodology in a “clustered pilot.” This work will be developed in collaboration with the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA), and other regional water providers.

The purpose of the pilot is to help participating companies understand the local water context and engage with peer companies, public sector water agencies, and other stakeholders in the basin to align measurement systems, set meaningful targets, and prioritize actions and investments that address the key water challenges in the region. Our ambition is that this pilot will serve as guidance for other basin-scale corporate collaboration around the world.

  • Project lead: Pacific Institute | CEO Water Mandate
  • Participating CWAC members: The Coca-Cola Company | Ecolab | WWF | The Nature Conservancy
  • To learn more: Contact Cora Kammeyer, Pacific Institute – ckammeyer@pacinst.org

Dairy Irrigation Innovation

California dairies account for 20% of U.S. milk production and generate significant revenue and jobs. Most state dairies rely on flood irrigation, resulting in over-application of water and nutrients and increasing the risk of nitrate leaching to groundwater.

About 85% of California’s 1.7 million cows are concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley, where poor manure management contributes to declining groundwater quality and supplies. Facing reduced access to water, dairies want solutions to apply their manure nutrients using less water.

To address this need, Sustainable Conservation is partnering with CWAC members and local dairy farmers to demonstrate an innovative drip irrigation system that reduces water use, nutrient use, and GHG emissions while growing quality feed crops. In addition to financial support, CWAC members are providing their agronomic and economic expertise and encouraging participation of dairy processors and farmers. If the innovative system is adopted on 1/3 of California’s important corn silage acreage, more than 125,000 acre feet (40 billion gallons) of water per year could be saved for other beneficial uses, and groundwater quality could improve over time due to less nitrate leaching from dairy cropland.

  • Project lead: Sustainable Conservation
  • Participating CWAC members: Bonneville Environmental Foundation | General Mills | Netafim
  • To learn more: Visit www.suscon.org or contact Ryan Flaherty - rflaherty@suscon.org.

Groundwater Recharge

Sustainable Conservation and its partners are leading an innovative project to optimize the capture of floodwater on private lands to recharge depleted groundwater supplies. Together, they're putting into action and evaluating an affordable and promising water management practice that enables farmers and water managers to help move groundwater basins in the San Joaquin Valley toward a sustainable balance of pumping and replenishment.

Their solution mimics the natural floodplain process of rivers spreading seasonally across the valley to replenish the groundwater aquifers below while ensuring farmers have control over the timing and amount of water captured. The project enlists the support of farmers, industry groups, irrigation districts, researchers, policy makers and businesses to help ensure water supply continuity for agricultural production and community drinking water, improved groundwater quality, environmental flows, and flood protection for rural communities.

  • Project lead: Sustainable Conservation
  • Participating CWAC members: Bonneville Environmental Foundation | Campbell’s Soup Company | General Mills Foundation | MillerCoors | Olam | The Coca-Cola Company
  • Additional partners: Almond Board of California | Bank of America Foundation | California Department of Food and Agriculture | California Department of Water Resources | California State University, Fresno – California Water Institute | Kings River Conservation District | Laguna Irrigation District | Madera Irrigation District | San Joaquin Valley Greenprint – Fresno Council of Governments | The Battery Foundation | The Water Foundation | Tulare Irrigation District | University of California Cooperative Extension | University of California, Davis | Wells Fargo Foundation | William C. Bannerman Foundation
  • To learn more: Contact Joe Choperena, Senior Project Manager, Sustainable Conservation – jchoperena@suscon.org

Incentivizing Coastal Farmers

California's Central Coast is a farming powerhouse, and the fruits and vegetables grown there sustain many U.S. households throughout the year. It is also one of the most biologically diverse regions in the state, and the marine ecosystems off the coast are some of the most diverse in the world. Unfortunately, the Central Coast is facing interrelated water quality and supply issues: groundwater overdraft, saltwater intrusion, and nutrient-laden runoff that impairs waterways and groundwater. This vibrant farming region is at risk, but farmers are part of the solution.

Sustainable Conservation is working with industry and others to scale adoption of context-based performance metrics in this region. The metrics calculate growers’ water and fertilizer use efficiency by comparing their use relative to crop needs and local conditions. As a result, farmers can enhance environmental conditions while reducing water, fertilizer, and regulatory compliance costs.

In collaboration with CWAC members and other partners, Sustainable Conservation is now working to scale regional adoption of the context-based metrics via three incentives: engage with the supply chain to enable the metrics to meet sustainability reporting requirements; create a rebate on farm loan interest for farmers that achieve metrics improvements; and propose a compliance approach for water quality regulation that accepts the metrics information as an alternative. Greater adoption will improve regional water supply reliability and water quality, increase crop production, and save farmer time and resource expenses.

  • Project lead: Sustainable Conservation
  • Participating CWAC members: Bonneville Environmental Foundation | Campbells Soup Company | Driscoll's
  • To learn more: Visit www.suscon.org or contact Kelli McCune, kmccune@suscon.org.

San Gabriel Watershed Restoration

The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and the Angeles National Forest are critically important to area water supplies, providing one-third of Los Angeles County’s drinking water. The rivers and creeks that flow out of the mountains recharge the local groundwater aquifers and provide important surface water for millions of people that live downstream.

After the 2009 Station Fire caused extensive damage to the area, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) and several local groups recognized the urgent need for a multi-year effort to restore the impaired watershed. Recognizing this critical resource as well as their reliance on the forested headwaters that provide their businesses with water, several CWAC corporate members saw an opportunity to align company needs and values with those of local organizations and communities.

In 2015, these CWAC members began a partnership with NFF to help restore hundreds of millions of gallons of water annually to the damaged San Gabriel Watershed. By removing 67 acres of a water intensive and prolific invasive species called Arundo donax, or giant cane, the project is returning significant amounts of water to area streams, improving the well-being of the San Gabriel Watershed for wildlife and Southern Californians.

Sustainable Southern California Landscapes

With climate change altering the timing and volume of precipitation, climate-resilient urban landscapes and water supply strategies are critical – particularly for those who depend on imported water like Southern California. Water purveyors have supported landscape conversions in residential yards and public spaces in cities over the past few years in California, and they see commercial/industrial (CI) properties as an area of untapped potential.

Pacific Institute is leading a collaboration with CWAC members and the Southern California business community to motivate the installation of landscapes on corporate properties that provide multiple benefits, such as water conservation, enhancing stormwater capture, improving water quality, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These landscapes represent a highly visual way for the business community to showcase its commitment to sustainability and will help to promote similar actions by residents and others.

Based on outcomes and lessons learned through this initiative, CWAC members will identify and pursue policies and other strategies for larger scale implementation of the sustainable landscape approach. The work will also result in a final report on project outcomes and key policy recommendations, intended for policy and decision makers, water managers, and researchers throughout the United States.

  • Project lead: Pacific Institute | CEO Water Mandate
  • Participating CWAC members: The Coca-Cola Company | Netafim | Nestlé Waters North America
  • Additional partners: California Forward | Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA)
  • To learn more: Contact Cora Kammeyer, Pacific Institute – ckammeyer@pacinst.org

Sustainable Groundwater Management Tools

In 2014, California adopted the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), requiring local agencies in regulated basins to develop and implement plans to achieve sustainable groundwater management. While progress is being made toward establishing these plans - which is required by 2022 - many agencies have been hampered by a lack of information on groundwater dependent plants and animals.

The Nature Conservancy, with support from General Mills, is working to launch and promote the use of an online Groundwater Resources Hub to serve as the “go-to” place for information on groundwater dependent plants and animals in California. The tools included in this hub will reduce the science gaps on nature's water needs, thereby helping local groundwater sustainability agencies meet requirements under SGMA and create a more secure, reliable supply of groundwater for California.

The Hub will launch in Spring 2018.

  • Project lead: The Nature Conservancy
  • Participating CWAC members: General Mills
  • To learn more: Contact Sandi Matsumoto, The Nature Conservancy - smatsumoto@tnc.org

Tahoe Headwaters Restoration

A legacy of extractive uses in the northern Sierra Nevada mountain range has negatively impacted forest and watershed health since the California gold rush. Intensive activities like hydraulic mining and clear cutting changed the structure and function of these forests, making them more vulnerable to insect, disease and wildfire. Fire suppression and intensive grazing throughout the 20th century negatively impacted high elevation meadow systems- important natural water reservoirs - leading to incised stream channels, conifer encroachment and overly-dense forests.

When healthy, the forested headwaters of the Truckee, American, and Yuba Rivers are resilient to wildfire, insects, and disease. Functioning meadows and forests can also effectively store and release high quality water for humans and natural communities. Small diameter woody biomass accumulated from forest thinning can also be used to generate bioenergy and wood products.

The National Forest Foundation is working with the U.S. Forest Service and partners like General Mills to restore the Tahoe National Forest Headwaters to optimum health by thinning vegetation, restoring meadows and river channels, eradicating invasive species, improving water flows, increasing sustainable recreation and youth and volunteer opportunities.

  • Project lead: National Forest Foundation
  • Participating CWAC members: The Coca-Cola Company | Olam
  • Additional partners: U.S. Forest Service
  • To learn more: Contact Kim Carr - Kcarr@nationalforests.org

Corporate Water Stewardship & the California Water Action Plan [COMPLETED]

In January 2014, the administration of Governor Brown released the California Water Action Plan – a roadmap for the first five years of the state’s journey toward sustainable water management. The plan identifies how state agencies, municipalities, and their partners can work together to create a more reliable water supply for farms and communities, restore important wildlife habitat and species, and help California’s water systems and environment become more resilient.

There is a strong opportunity for California's business community to contribute to the Action Plan, improving the measurement, management, and stewardship of shared natural resources in a manner that also supports sustainable economic growth. Toward this end, the CEO Water Mandate – a corporate water stewardship initiative administered jointly by the UN Global Compact and the Pacific Institute – facilitated a statewide collaboration with CWAC members and other partners to identify specific opportunities where the private sector can help accelerate progress toward the Plan's vision.

In the first phase of this project (current), participants worked to identify relevant stakeholders, examples of successful collaborative water projects across the State, and gaps in the Action Plan's implementation that the business community can help fill. Participating organizations are now working to jointly develop, commit to, and implement new water stewardship initiatives aligned with Action Plan goals and needs.

  • Project lead: Pacific Institute | CEO Water Mandate
  • Participating CWAC members: Nestlé North America | Ag Innovations | Olam | WWF
  • Additional partners: Ericsson | Veolia North America*
  • To learn more: Visit https://wateractionhub.org/californiawaterstewardship/, or contact Jason Morrison, Corporate Sustainability Program Director, Pacific Institute - jmorrison@pacinst.org

We anticipate these projects evolving, and new projects emerging, as CWAC's membership grows and the state's water challenges shift over time. Follow our progress here, and see the latest CWAC updates on our News page. To learn about other water stewardship projects in California, visit the CEO Water Mandate's Water Action Hub.