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Takeaways from Imagine H2O’s Water Policy + Innovation Summit

Imagine H2O and the Milken Institute convened a select group of California water policy experts and stakeholders at its 2017 Water Policy + Innovation Summit

Water innovation can lead to more efficient, more resilient, and more equitable management of our water resources. However, innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum and smarter water management requires a fresh approach to bridge the gap between innovators and policy makers. Imagine H2O’s California Water Policy Challenge identifies and supports policies leading to the broader adoption of water innovation in the state and beyond.

In partnership with the Milken Institute, the Water Policy + Innovation Summit convened policy experts, utility leaders, end users and elected officials in Sacramento to hear from the winners of the 2017 California Water Policy Challenge. An exceptional group of thought leaders, judges, and speakers presented and developed ideas for policies that will help modernize water in California. The Summit also featured Senators Wiener, Dodd, and Stern discussing initiatives already underway and how these pieces of legislation will expand markets for water technologies and improve data-based water management.

What follows is a take away from each session. Our support of these teams and their ideas is ongoing, and your feedback is invaluable. Please comment below or add your thoughts here.

1. California’s water rights are stored on millions of pieces of paper across dozens of locations, and this is crippling our ability to properly manage water resources. Uncertainty delays or prevents informed decision making, and goes to the very foundations of water management in California. Water rights are not an abstract concept: managing our water supply depends on storing water across years and diverting water across regions, and that depends on accurately and quickly knowing who has rights to what water. These rights are relational and conditional, and 99% of the 20 million+ pages are spread across 60+ locations. Digitizing these legal records is complex, expensive and time consuming. One example of the magnitude of this task: original paper records need to be retained, so staples must be removed and replaced after scanning. 10 million times. We need a water rights database worthy of California.

Policy Challenge Winners the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at Berkeley Law (CLEE) and Water and Power Law Group PC proposed creating a modern information system of water rights and water use that will enable deliberate, real-time decision making on the allocation of water in California. Read the Policy Brief here.

2. Data can strengthen the economics and resiliency of California’s Agriculture Sector. With the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) quickly approaching, changes in how we manage, monitor, and measure groundwater resources is inevitable. California’s farmers are often tech savvy and efficiency minded (think: tweets from tractors), but also understandably dubious of expanded data collection and regulation. Farmers and regulators need not be at odds. We can bridge the gap and reframe SGMA as a win-win: collecting groundwater data will lead farmers to better decision making, cost savings, and the realization of new revenue streams from California’s farms — and proving this will lead to more proactive compliance with the impending regulation and better resource stewardship. Successful implementation of SGMA requires all stakeholders to embrace the opportunity to improve productivity and resilience in a climate uncertain future.

Runner-Up Mammoth Trading proposed incentivizing the agricultural community to participate in groundwater data collection and management through the development of groundwater trading markets. Read the Policy Brief here.

3. Product overload and uncertainty around product performance leads to innovation fatigue for farmers. Although farmers are more than willing to embrace innovation to drive efficiency, they are regularly inundated with pitches for the next best thing. They often have limited time and resources to identify real solutions in what is becoming a surging market for agtech products and services. Establishing a third party technology validation scheme could allow farmers to identify vetted innovations without sinking significant resources into a purchase decision. Cost of verification will be borne by the vendor and recouped in sales, and a growing demand for proven ag-tech will lead to more, better technology being developed and more efficient use of water on farms.

Runner Up Got Produce? proposed improving access to USDA-backed loans for innovative water efficiency technologies for farmers through third-party validation of vendor-claimed water savings. Read the Policy Brief here.

4. Developing statewide onsite reuse standards demonstrates how regulation can align with proven technology while increasing certainty in the marketplace. Water reuse is a quickly growing water technology market in California, with US$4.3 billion of planned activity in the coming years. Israel and Australia have proven that a modern society can reuse or recycle a majority of its water resources and that effective solutions exist. However, fully embracing this technology requires a regulatory framework that enables the broader deployment of existing technologies. This will grow the market, drive down costs, build certainty for producers and increase water efficiency. As demonstrated in the renewables sector, consistent regulations create the market conditions for innovation, investment and deployment. SB740 is an exemplary case of this logic in action.

SB 740 Onsite Non-Potable Water System Guidelines authored by Senator Scott Wiener directs the State Water Resources Control Board to develop a comprehensive risk-based framework to assist local communities in developing oversight and management programs for onsite non-potable water systems in multi-family residential, commercial, and mixed-use buildings. You can submit comments to Senator Wiener here.

5. Once a piece of legislation has been passed, advocates face the challenge of funding implementation. Managing California’s water resources will require innovative policies, technologies, careful planning, and coordination, and this requires detailed data on water supply and water useage. Currently, the State of California collects significant information on water use, supply, and rights. Yet, the provision of this data is fragmented, inconsistent, and is often locked in formats that are incompatible with modern needs. Since AB 1755 has passed the legislature and been signed into law by Governor Brown, only $800,000 has been allocated to support its implementation — the total estimated cost is $3 million. Absent additional resources, funding from private entities or other cost sharing scenarios, the Bill Dodd Bill may remain just a piece of paper much like the data it aims to consolidate.

AB 1755 The Open and Transparent Water Data Act authored by Senator Bill Dodd aims to remedy lack of consistent and useable water data by mandating construction of an integrated database which makes available data on water supplies in a common, open, and well documented data format.

What’s Next?

We’ll continue to support these teams on their way to implementation much like we support the companies in our accelerator grow their businesses. Stay tuned for updates on their progress and opportunities to get involved, or voice your interest now in the comments section below or by filling out this survey.

We also have some exciting changes coming down the IH2O policy pipeline. Alongside our partners and an impressive cast of California policy experts, we are creating new opportunities to bridge the gap between innovators and policy makers and harnessing these partnerships to impact water management in California, and beyond.