An Important First Step Toward a Water Market

Gary Toebben

President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce


What gets measured gets managed, ” management guru Peter Drucker once said.  In the fourth year of a historic drought, Drucker’s statement is especially relevant.

Simply put, in spite of numerous databases containing information on hydrology, biology, water quality, water use and other technical information, there is no single entity responsible for collecting and reporting all the data necessary for regulatory and water supply managers to make informed and science-based decisions to manage our precious water resources.

What if we could apply the best minds of Silicon Valley, Silicon Beach and individual water agencies throughout the state to address the measurement problem? Why shouldn’t policy makers and all water users have access to a uniform set of reliable and consistent data to make instantaneous decisions that could help us lead to a more sustainable water future?

Gathering this data in one place would boost both the private sector – likely spurring investments and a real water market. And, it would make water agencies more knowledgeable about the true state of California’s water resources.

So, the main problem confronting us is why doesn’t the above occur? The obvious answer is that we have the technical expertise. We have ample data available, but it’s spread throughout many state agencies, not easily centralized and no one entity is responsible for collecting it and making it accessible. What’s lacking is the political will.

Earlier this month, Assemblymember Bill Dodd (D-Napa) introduced a bill to create this infrastructure. Dodd’s legislation, the Open and Transparent Water Data Act, will help California establish the necessary infrastructure to allow for collection, compilation and reporting of this critical information.

Without this data, California will be unable to take an important first step toward the creation of a truly functional water market. Open and easily accessible data on water transfers will provide the information needed by water users to enter the marketplace. A robust statewide water market can improve the reliability and efficiency of California’s water system

Efficiency should be the number one goal for improving our water system. With measurable efficiency we will regain the trust of weary ratepayers suspicious of government spending and new mandates on the public and business. Through transparency, such as the collection and public availability of the information the Dodd bill would pull out of a myriad of state agencies, informed decisions can be made on the most efficient and cost effective measures needed to assure adequate water supplies for all, including our environment.

Right now, a decentralized, uncoordinated and inconsistent data collection system exists, where water agencies at the federal, state and local level gather data in different formats and for different purposes.

Large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco would benefit tremendously from this centralized, statewide data collection. This is one of the reasons why the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Bay Area Council support Assemblymember Dodd’s legislation.

In Southern California, the Metropolitan Water District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power are among two of the most sophisticated entities in the state. Both do an admirable job of data collection and, in many respects, their processes and procedures may serve as “best practices.”

However, the drought is a statewide problem. Disparities and discrepancies in data collection hurt the entire state and favor the few organizations and businesses that have abundant resources and knowledge.

Simply because we haven’t collected a uniform set of water data, already collected in one form or another by our state agencies, isn’t a reason to not do so now. After four years of water shortages, which costs residents, businesses and farmers billions of dollars, Assemblymember Dodd’s legislation looks like a quick and common sense path to a more efficient and resilient water supply future.

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