Solving complex, long-standing water challenges requires expanding the voice and political power of those most impacted by unsafe, unaffordable, and unreliable water. In California’s San Joaquin Valley, over 90% of residents rely mostly or solely on groundwater for their drinking water supply.
The state’s major groundwater sustainability law provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to responsibly manage our water supplies and better serve people and nature today and into the future. Yet, low-income rural communities report limited opportunities to participate in local groundwater sustainability decision-making and advocating for their drinking water needs. Historically, the process has too often been led and controlled by power structures that do not necessarily reflect the priorities and goals of all residents and stakeholders of disadvantaged communities.
Self-Help Enterprises launched a first-of-its-kind Rural Community Water Managers Leadership Institute in 2019 to support more responsive and democratic leadership and grow community power to improve the public and environmental health of the valley. The Institute grew out Self-Help Enterprises’ scoping process with community members who voiced concerns that state water policy conversations rely too heavily on technical language and acronyms.
Residents wanted support so that they could learn to translate complex jargon so that they could question and comment on issues that matter to them as well as accessing resources to better identify solutions as specific issues arise.
Based on this feedback, Self-Help Enterprises uses classroom instruction, group activities, and tours to increase knowledge about water management and to prepare local leaders to engage in groundwater management planning and implementation opportunities taking place in their regions.
In 2020, the Institute will be working with new community leaders while continuing to support 2019 graduates to help them join Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, local advisory committees, and regional commissions. Institute graduates will also have opportunities to mentor new participants and help develop future technical assistance and training sessions. The 2020 cohort will learn about local and regional community water uses, challenges, and solutions; California water management and planning programs; effective community participation in water management and planning; community network building; and available funding and financing, among other topics.