State agencies, in partnership with non-state partners, should expand public awareness, bolster public engagement, and improve community access to data and decision-making spaces to promote transparency and ensure more equitable stewardship of California’s water system.
“Water isn’t necessarily the top [public] policy issue. Showing how it connects to other areas that are front and center for elected bodies, the state, and the general public helps to get more resources to develop a better water system to support infrastructure and decision making.” —Water Utility Employee
For some California residents, a lack of awareness around water issues may reflect the current inaccessibility of water data and unapproachable decision-makers (Academia 3; Academia 4). This is often the case for low-income communities and communities of color (Environmental NGO Employee 3). Leaders supporting underserved communities shared concerns that regional water governance, management, operations, and water data are exclusionary and not transparent (Community-based NGO Employee 1). These interviewees expressed concern that communication around drought or other water management issues areas are often not relevant or accessible to the people they represent (Academia 4; State Agency Employee 5). This miscommunication can form a foundation of mistrust, which makes it difficult for water managers to collaborate with communities within their region.
“There’s an issue of a lack of trust that comes from people who don’t have the data in front of them and assume the worst, not knowing why decisions are being made when they might sometimes be fine decisions.” — NGO Employee
Investing in resources that will improve communication between decision-makers and the public, such as outreach programs and data dissemination, will help bolster water policy efforts, and ultimately chip away at feelings of mistrust and exclusion. California’s existing federated platforms establish a great foundation for this work, but it is necessary to invest in outreach and education around water policies issues as well. Public data that is easy to access and understand for every Californian is critical to this effort.
“Data is core to making good decisions. I think we have to convince the public of the expenditures necessary to develop good information to understand the value of water.” –Academic
Data visualization, storytelling, and economic analyses were enumerated by interviewees as a means of making data digestible, easy-to-understand, and compelling. Information campaigns aimed at the general public can utilize effective data visualization and storytelling to help communities understand their water vulnerability and the importance of long-term investment in California’s water systems. The State and many NGOs have already invested a great deal into outreach campaigns such as these, including the State of California’s Save the Water Campaign, the Association of California Water Agencies’ Quench CA, and the Water Education Foundation’s Water Academies. Additional efforts have been led by community-based organizations and academic groups to build the capacity of community members, especially in underserved regions, to interpret and use water data in local campaigns, such as the AGUA Coalition (Academia 4). These programs could be expanded to reach classrooms and more underserved communities. Increasing the accessibility of water data for the California public and fostering an understanding, care, and stewardship of water will position the State to improve consensus building efforts around water management decisions. Ultimately, data literacy, capacity building, and water education can help to ensure the public has an authoritative voice in managing their own water systems.