Supporting Community-Driven Consolidation Solutions Research with Partners

Cover photo of the US Water Alliance: Catalyzing Community-Driven Utility Consolidations and Partnerships report.

Photo Credit: US Water Alliance

April 5, 2022

The US Water Alliance recently released a new report on Catalyzing Community-Driven Utility Consolidations and Partnerships. Created in partnership with community organizations, the California State Water Control Board, philanthropy, consulting firms, technical assistance providers, researchers and water systems, the report contributes to a growing national conversation on consolidation and regionalization.

The Luskin Center for Innovation’s co-director Greg Pierce and postdoctoral fellow Kristin Dobbin participated in the four convenings that informed the report and are now helping lead governance research identified as a priority next step in the work.

The report identifies four strategies that could accelerate consolidation and partnership efforts statewide.

Community-Driven Consolidation Strategies: 

  • Public engagement: Focusing on pre-project scoping and community-engagement (or “Step Zero”) to ensure projects are community-driven.
  • Increasing capacity: Identifying pathways to increase community engagement and technical capacity to inform and accelerate community-driven consolidations including creating regional project teams with community outreach advisors. 
  • Tools and resources: Resourcing community-driven consolidation with key tools and information that catalyze progress such as templates, guides and decision-support tools spanning economic, engineering and socio-political considerations 
  • State and local leadership: Identifying areas to increase state and local government leadership support for consolidation efforts. For example, establishing clear expectations for projects and helping to identify potential consolidation opportunities. 

Given these strategies, the report lays out five recommendations for water agencies, government and philanthropy that could help capitalize on this moment of opportunity and accelerate community-driven equity and sustainability consolidation and partnerships in California and beyond: 


  • Establish shared expectations for project timelines.
  • Further invest in partnership and community capacity within the water sector.
  • Create shared spaces to tackle state and regional consolidation policy issues.
  • Jumpstart the consolidation project planning process with proactive analysis.
  • Involve community members early and often in consolidation projects.

Read the full report here.

Furthering the Work 

As part of strategy three (tools and resources) and recommendation four (jumpstart the consolidation project planning process with proactive analysis), stakeholders at the convenings identified lack of information about governance alternatives and governance change as a key barrier. To address this gap, since the summer convenings, our initial research informed by new Water Board data has identified and analyzed 225 consolidations across California dating back to 2015. We found 15 distinct governance arrangements among “consolidated” community water systems and another 14 among “receiving” water systems resulting in nearly fifty different pathways of governance change for local communities undertaking consolidation.

To help local and state stakeholders navigate and compare this multiplicity of alternatives, Dobbins, Pierce and Human Right to Water Solutions Lab collaborator Justin McBride were commissioned by the Water Foundation and stakeholders to develop a community guide for structuring and governing consolidations. The guide, and an accompanying decision-support tool, will help facilitate local decision-making on oftentimes thorny issues such as community representation and water system ownership. 

Our full report should be publicly available by Fall 2022.