Center for Law, Energy & the Environment at UC Berkeley School of Law

September 15, 2020
People walk the trail at Table Mountain near Oroville, California. Photo by Kelly M. Grow, California Department of Water Resources.
People walk the trail at Table Mountain near Oroville, California, Kelly M. Grow / California Department of Water Resources


California produces an immense amount of water data, but it is unable to effectively use these data to inform decision-making, plan for growing populations and changing climate, or illuminate hidden opportunities to act before problems strike. Each of the state’s more than 7,400 individual water systems collects thousands of pages of information on water quality, quantity, and use. Local, state, and federal regulatory agencies collect more data. However, the state lacks the infrastructure and processes to bring these data sources together, make sense of them, and make them available to those who need and want access to more information. To address this, California passed the Open and Transparent Water Data Act in 2016.


The 2016 bill tasks public agencies with making water data accessible, shareable, and analyzable, but does not specify how to do so.  The Center for Law, Energy & the Environment at UC Berkeley School of Law partnered with the California Department of Water Resources and the California Council on Science and Technology to explore the integration of data and water decision-making in the state. The goal was to support development of a statewide data platform that is useful to the people and organizations making water decisions.

They pulled together water managers, federal and state government, environmental groups, and businesses to develop recommendations on how to make California’s open data platform most helpful to end users. As part of the process, the UC Berkeley team also developed an illustrative set of twenty use cases, through which decision-makers articulate and understand “who needs what data, in what form, to make what decision” for everything from creating groundwater basin water budgets to investing in headwaters restoration to exploring urban water efficiency solutions.

The UC Berkeley team also recently followed up with a more detailed exploration of distinct yet complementary approaches to data provision, weighing the pros and cons of different approaches to inform the process of implementing the law’s requirements.

What’s Next

UC Berkeley’s work has helped shape how state agencies charged with implementing the Open and Transparent Water Data are now prioritizing their work. Supported by this research, the state agencies implementing the Open and Transparent Water Data Act adopted a user-centered approach as a cornerstone of their vision for implementation. Public agencies, water utilities, and other partners have launched a new nonprofit organization called the California Water Data Consortium that supports data-informed decision-making, amplifying efforts to improve water data infrastructure by creating a neutral organizational space to build trust and facilitate collaboration across sectors. This organization will help the state create a federated, interoperable water data system and streamline data reporting requirements now that state agencies are building a shared place to view and analyze the information they need. Texas and New Mexico are also using UC Berkeley’s methodology and use cases as part of their own statewide efforts to make public water data more useful.

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