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 and litigation to prevent pollution of California’s surface waters and groundwater (Water Quality), ensure healthy water flows in California’s rivers and streams (Water Flows), and promote sustainable, equitable use of all California waters (Water Use).
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 snow packs, 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. Inadequate state standards, weak enforcement, and tepid implementation have forced citizen groups and nonprofits to step up to compel compliance.
One of the chief challenges of ensuring needed flows for nature, and sustainably using the water we have after that, is that the state’s water management system allocated more “water rights” to surface waters than actually exist – and agencies have failed to enforce even those limits. Groundwater has faced even more challenges, with essentially no oversight until 2014, and lax implementation of protection laws to date.
Environment Now’s partners work in three areas to protect California waters:
- Water Quality – Environment Now supports partner advocacy and litigation to reduce industrial, stormwater, sewage, agricultural runoff, oil and gas, and other sources of pollution of the state’s 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.
- Water 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 assigns California the duty to safeguard waters it holds in trust for people and nature. Examples: Save California Salmon, Natural Resources Defense Council, Golden State Salmon Association.
- Water Use – Environment Now’s partners work to increase sustainable use of California’s surface waters and groundwater and create replicable models for action. Partners calculate potential savings of up to 14 million acre-feet annually, roughly 18% of annual surface water supplies, through increased agricultural and urban efficiency, reclaimed water, stormwater capture, and nature-based solutions such as “green streets” and riverside parks. Such actions will create local, climate-resilient water systems that relieve pressure on distant water sources and their fragile ecosystems, while also creating new, local jobs and economies. Examples: Pacific Institute, Clean Water Fund, Los Angeles Waterkeeper.
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 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 model for action;
- numerous victories in controlling stormwater pollution from industrial, municipal, and construction sources, opening up 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 landmark success in work to increase water flows in the state’s waterways, particularly in the Bay-Delta region, critical to both ecological and water supply health. Work included both reducing withdrawals and adding new water, such in the San Joaquin River, where court action resulted in the river once again flowing to the Pacific Ocean after 60 years and providing historic salmon habitat. More recently, partners’ landmark 2018 Public Trust Doctrine court ruling clarified that the state must protect rivers from overdraft caused by nearby groundwater pumping. This ruling was most recently applied in Sonoma County to protect dwindling surface waters and threatened fish.
Finally, Environment Now’s partners have worked to increase sustainable water use through conservation mandates, with statewide water consumption reductions of over 20% since 2013, and through implementation of the state’s first groundwater management law. Partners also secured significant new commitments to reclaim water, through both new state policy and court action, with a state court ordering the State Water Board in 2020 to consider mandated recycling of wastewater from public treatment plants.