What We Do
Environment Now fights for clean, accessible, sufficient water for people and the environment. We advance water policies that recognize water as life, and that prioritize implementation of the rights of both humans and nature to water for life needs. We do this by supporting research, advocacy, capacity building, and litigation to prevent pollution of California’s surface waters and groundwater, ensure healthy water flows in California’s rivers and streams, and promote sustainable, equitable use of all California waters.
The lifeblood of California’s people, ecosystems, and species is water. Yet California’s surface waters and groundwater continue to be polluted, overdrawn, and misused. Climate change will further impact water-storing snowpacks, alter rainfall patterns, and heat up the state, putting additional pressure on threatened water systems and pushing more species toward extinction.
Despite both federal and state clean water laws, California still lags in protecting the quality of its inland surface waters, coastal waters, and groundwater. The state’s fundamentally inequitable water management system has allocated many more water rights than waterways can support – and agencies have failed to enforce even those limits. Groundwater has faced additional challenges, with essentially no oversight until 2014 legislation, and lax implementation since.
In the face of inadequate state standards, weak enforcement, and tepid implementation, community, tribal, conservation, and fishing groups have stepped up to compel compliance and ensure California water governance prioritizes the fundamental clean water needs of people and natural systems.
Environment Now’s partners work in three areas to protect California waters:
- Clean Water – Partner advocacy and litigation reduces industrial, stormwater, sewage, agricultural runoff, oil and gas, and other pollution into California waters. The federal Clean Water Act and state water quality laws provide key tools. Examples: California Coastkeeper Alliance, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Center.
- Healthy Flows – Partners apply innovative strategies to prevent excessive water withdrawals and secure needed water in natural systems. Tools include federal statutes such as the Endangered Species Act, state statutes such as Fish and Game Code protections for fish, state constitutional prohibitions on “waste and unreasonable use” of water, and the Public Trust Doctrine, which requires California to safeguard waters it holds in trust for people and nature. Examples: Save California Salmon, Natural Resources Defense Council, Golden State Salmon Association, Environmental Law Foundation.
- Equitable, Sustainable Water Use – Environmental justice and tribal communities, along with local grassroots groups, address systemic inequity and bias underlying California water governance and increase just, sustainable use of surface waters and groundwater. Environment Now partners also advance water-saving efforts such as conservation, efficiency, recycling, and other solutions, with savings of up to 14 million acre-feet annually (roughly 18% of annual surface water supplies). Examples: Restore the Delta, Ridges to Riffles, Native American Land Conservancy, Clean Water Fund.
Since its inception, Environment Now has built community capacity to protect local waters. This includes creation of a “picket line” of local Waterkeeper groups in California and Baja California, Mexico, working to stop pollution by enforcing clean water laws. Water quality successes by these and other Environment Now partners include:
- federal court victory against Caltrans, requiring the massive state agency to manage its stormwater discharges in compliance with the Clean Water Act;
- $2 billion settlement against the City of Los Angeles over sewage contamination, resulting in an 83% reduction in releases and creating a statewide model;
- numerous victories in controlling stormwater pollution from industrial, municipal, and construction sources, opening waters to safe recreation and other uses; and
- adoption and enforcement of first-in-nation agricultural polluted runoff policies.
Environment Now’s partners have similarly achieved success towards increasing flows in the state’s waterways. This includes the 2022 federal decision to begin dismantling four Klamath River dams and create 500 miles of new fish habitat, and court actions to restore flows to the San Joaquin River after 60 years. Partners also obtained a landmark Public Trust Doctrine court ruling protecting rivers impacted by groundwater pumping; this ruling was recently applied in Sonoma County to protect dwindling surface waters and threatened fish.
Finally, partners have worked to increase equitable and sustainable water use. Partners have issued groundbreaking petitions to state and federal agencies highlighting inequities in Bay-Delta water management; these critical initiatives continue. Efforts around sustainable water use include new conservation mandates, with statewide water consumption reductions of over 20% in the last decade, and implementation of the state’s first groundwater management law. Partners also secured significant new commitments to reclaim water and successfully pushed back on severely flawed water strategies, such as the Poseidon desalination plant.