Sustainable water management means using water in a way that meets current, ecological, social, and economic needs without compromising the ability to meet those needs in the future. It requires water managers to look beyond jurisdictional boundaries and their immediate supply operations, managing water collaboratively while seeking resilient regional solutions that minimize risks.

In 2012, the Water Foundation and its partners, including The Bay Institute, Environmental Science Associates, and Sonoma Ecology Center set out to create a tool – called the Sustainable Water Management (SWM) Profile – that helps water agencies measure water stress conditions on the ground and assess their progress towards sustainable water management by evaluating their management responses to these conditions. The group focused on developing a tool that can aid public utilities, residential and business customers, land use planning agencies, financial analysts, and state and federal agencies. Each of these stakeholders plays an important role ensuring sound water management, and the SWM Profile seeks to incentivize these stakeholders to work together to sustainably manage the waters of a region.

To develop and test the SWM Profile, the group:

  • convened a team of experts to develop the tool, supported by an advisory committee;
  • launched a pilot project in 2014 with Sonoma County Water Agency to develop and test the first version of the tool;
  • used lessons from the pilot to engage a wide variety of stakeholders, including representatives from water agencies, the business and financial sector, state and federal government, NGOs, and academia, to get feedback and make improvements and resulting in a second version of the tool; and
  • with the revised tool, launched a second pilot project in 2016 with Inland Empire Utilities Agency.

The resulting tool examines the water supplies an agency directly or indirectly relies upon. Using simple metrics, the SWM Profile identifies the vulnerability of water systems to key stressors (also known as risks or threats) in the areas of environment, supply, demand, and finance.

Based on this analysis, the SWM Profile then evaluates management responses to these stressors by the water agency and the broader region. Utilizing an objective points-based system, the SWM Profile determines where an agency and its surrounding region currently stand on the path to sustainability. The water supply agency and its region are assigned one of five ratings based on points earned for management responses to stressors. Ratings include: not rated, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.

SWM Profile Lessons and Next Steps

In December 2019, the Water Foundation and its partners released a paper summarizing the SWM Profile’s application through two pilot projects and lessons learned over the course of its development and testing.

These lessons are gathered to help inform the development of SWM Profile-informed efforts, as well as other types of assessment efforts by water agencies and managers. For example, the Pacific Institute is leading several efforts that key off the SWM Profile, including a guidebook for elected leaders of water agency boards and municipalities and a SWM-based tool for retail water supply agencies. Additionally, Environmental Science Associates and the Bay Institute worked with the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority’s One Water, One Watershed (OWOW) Plan to develop a SWM-informed assessment of implementation of this sustainability plan, funded by the California Department of Water Resources as part of the California Water Plan Update 2018.

Read the full paper: The Sustainable Water Management Profile: An Assessment Tool to Advance Water Supply Sustainability

Additional Information: 2016 Inland Empire Utilities Agency Pilot

In 2016, Inland Empire Utilities Agency worked with the Water Foundation to conduct a pilot assessment of its water stress vulnerabilities and management responses. The agency received a gold rating.

Read a summary of Inland Empire Utilities Agency pilot.

Read the Inland Empire Utilities Agency’s full SWM Profile report.