News & Events:

New Report: Putting Data to Work

February 15th, 2023

New Report: Putting Data to Work

How better data can help Californians manage drought, floods, agriculture, fisheries, and more

SACRAMENTO, California, FEB 15 2023 – The California Water Data Consortium (Consortium) today released a new technical report and policy brief: Putting Data to Work: Why Investing in Water and Ecological Data in California Matters. High-quality, usable, and accessible data are critical in supporting an equitable and resilient water future for all Californians. Putting Data to Work outlines six recommendations to improve water data and data infrastructure in California, ultimately providing water leaders with better ability to plan for shortages, flooding, groundwater conservation, and sustainable water consumption in a changing climate.

Casey Campos (right), environmental scientist, California Department of Resources, records data given by Matt Hansen (left), fisheries technician, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, during a salmon carcass survey in the Feather River in Oroville, California. (Photo taken November 4, 2020. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources)
California Department of Water Resources

On any given day in California, reservoir operators are evaluating how much water to release downstream to prevent flooding during extreme rainfall events or to protect endangered salmon and their eggs during dry summer months. State agency employees are making decisions about how much water will be available for cities and growers in the coming year. Non-governmental organizations are trying to find and locate households whose sole water source – a domestic well – has gone dry, so they can provide emergency services. Missing or inaccessible data hinders the ability of these and many other water and ecological professionals to effectively manage resources and systems in these scenarios. As water availability becomes increasingly unpredictable due to climate change and extreme weather events, the impacts of data gaps will exacerbate existing water inequities in communities across California. Putting Data to Work outlines six key recommendations to improve the quality, accessibility, and dissemination of water data in California:

  1. Invest in water data infrastructure
  2. Continue empowering cross agency collaboration
  3. Create open data standards and protocols
  4. Automate data collection and reporting of critical water datasets
  5. Streamline procurement processes to enable innovation
  6. Expand public awareness and accessibility of water data

The (recurring) problem

Water managers across California struggle to effectively manage our water systems because the data they need to solve problems is often missing or inaccessible. As human-driven climate change continues to make water availability and extreme weather events increasingly unpredictable, the lack of information on our water resources is exacerbating existing water inequities in communities across California.

To better understand California’s data challenges and develop recommendations to address these issues, the Consortium conducted a series of interviews with water leaders from a variety of sectors — from state employees and leaders to non-government organizations, growers, urban water suppliers, Tribal governments, academia, philanthropy, and urban and agricultural water districts. Water leaders highlighted that data access and data quality are critical to getting their work done. However, current water data quality and access issues prevent both local and statewide water planners from succeeding, and ultimately affect the State’s ability to create a more resilient water future for everyone living and working in California.


“We can no longer operate such a sophisticated and a complicated system in a time of scarcity without significantly better data and information.”  – State Agency Employee


As California’s water systems are increasingly strained by climate change, population growth, wildfire, over-consumption, and other factors, the time for high-quality, usable, and accessible data is now.

The (untapped) solution:

Putting Data to Work, developed and written in collaboration with FlowWest, provides an overview of how data is used to drive decision-making across California. The report outlines  that if water managers have improved access to more timely, high-quality data, they can enable communities to improve water resilience and equity access across the state:

  • Groundwater sustainability agencies can rely on accurate and trusted water budgets to base decisions on the long-term sustainability of groundwater basins, including decisions about when, where, and how to recharge groundwater to ensure safe, secure, and affordable water for Californians that rely on groundwater.
  • Tribes can understand how groundwater extractions might affect salmon runs and work with communities to develop off-river storage or other potential management strategies protecting critical species.
  • Regulatory agencies, NGOs, and water rights holders can make more insightful and effective decisions about flow management, water use, and water transfer to enable more certainty for growers, improve environmental outcomes, and more skillfully operate and manage the existing water infrastructure during times of drought and flooding.
  • California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and local community organizations can better plan and prepare for water shortage risks, resulting in secure, safe, and affordable water for Californians.

Putting Data to Work: Why Investing in Water and Ecological Data in California Matters and supporting materials are available at the California Water Data Consortium site.

    Members of the California Conservation Corps carrying bundles of sand bags to be filled before placement as part of preforming emergency repair to damage sections of a levee along the Cosumnes River in Wilton, California. (Photo taken January 11, 2023. Kenneth James / California Department of Water Resources)

    About the California Water Data Consortium

    The California Water Data Consortium is an independent non-profit organization founded in 2019 to support the implementation of the Open and Transparent Water Data Act (Assembly Bill1755). The Consortium supports water stewardship statewide by providing an independent space for collaboration and sustained engagement between State agencies, water agencies, industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Tribes, and others. By empowering water leaders with resources and connections that bolster data-informed decision-making, the Consortium supports a more resilient and equitable water future for everyone living and working in California.

    Media Contact:

    Amanda Miller

    Senior Operations Manager