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Report · October 2020

Water Partnerships between Cities and Farms in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley

Alvar Escriva-Bou, Gokce Sencan, Ellen Hanak, and Robert Wilkinson

Supported with funding from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Water Funder Initiative Water Campaign, and a consortium of San Joaquin Valley farmers


The San Joaquin Valley and urban Southern California are worlds apart in many ways. Yet each face growing water challenges and a shared interest in ensuring reliable, affordable water supplies to safeguard their people and economies. Both regions’ water futures could be more secure if they take advantage of shared water infrastructure to jointly develop and manage some water supplies.

Increasing climate volatility is heightening concerns about droughts of the future. And two major shifts in California’s water landscape have generated new opportunities for collaboration between urban and agricultural interests. For urban areas, significant declines in water demand have reduced pressure on supplies during normal and wet years for many agencies, making reliability for future droughts the primary concern. For the overdrafted San Joaquin Valley, the requirement to manage groundwater sustainably has heightened interest in expanding water supplies and underground storage.

Partnerships between Southern California cities and San Joaquin Valley farms could help alleviate groundwater overdraft in the valley while building drought resilience in Southern California. More flexible supplies can help agencies adapt to changing conditions. By coordinating the location of infrastructure investments, agencies can use partnerships to bring the water where and when it is most needed, at least cost.

This report explores a variety of solutions that could benefit both regions. For the San Joaquin Valley, we look for ways to augment water supplies to ease the transition to groundwater sustainability, while for Southern California we explore options that would increase cities’ ability to deal effectively with extended droughts. By diversifying water supplies, building connections to share water more flexibly, and preparing for the extreme events to come, such partnerships would support Governor Newsom’s Water Resilience Portfolio, and pave the way for a shared effort to make the state’s water system more resilient to a changing climate.


Drought Paying for Water San Joaquin Valley Water Supply Water, Land & Air