Collaborative Solutions to Bring Real Change to Drought-Stricken California

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Collaborative Solutions to Bring Real Change to Drought-Stricken California

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.@GeneralMills + @CeresNews develop sustainable solutions for #farmers of drought-stricken CA #WorldWaterWeek
Friday, September 2, 2016 - 1:30pm

The theme at this year’s World Water Week is Sustainable Growth, and I’m here, along with thousands of global water experts, to talk policy action for addressing the world’s most critical water problems -- problems that threaten the livelihoods of communities as well as contribute to business and investment risk. As the lead for the California policy program at Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability advocacy organization, I work collaboratively with companies, institutional investors, policymakers and other NGOs to accelerate solutions to bring real change to drought-stricken California.

It’s exciting to be here in Sweden sharing strategies, like Ceres’ Connect the Drops campaign, with others from around the world.

In an effort to foster partnerships across businesses and beyond, Ceres launched Connect the Drops, which elevates the voice of California businesses in favor of resilient water solutions such as conservation, reuse, and integrated management of the state’s precious surface and groundwater supplies. Connect the Drops members engage in statewide water management discussions, while taking innovative action on water stewardship within their own four walls and beyond.

General Mills, a member of Ceres’ company network since 2006, was a founding signatory to Connect the Drops. The company is also a member of Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP).

Through the Connect the Drops partnership, we have seen strong progress that demonstrates how collaboration can change the scope of our water future.
Thanks in part to the advocacy of Connect the Drops members, for example, the California legislature this week passed an important data management bill, AB 1755, that will help the state organize disparate record-keeping systems to better coordinate its response to the drought and make more informed water management decisions.

In March, Ceres and Connect the Drops businesses, including General Mills, submitted a letter urging the California Water Commission to create mechanisms that allow for equal consideration of smaller-scale groundwater recharge projects. With $2.7B earmarked for California water storage projects, policy makers have traditionally focused on large scale surface storage infrastructure projects. Groundwater recharge projects are a smart, cost-effective way to conserve precious resources.

Sustainable Conservation, for instance, is conducting research focused on recharging groundwater in California’s almond growing regions in the Central Valley. General Mills sources nearly all of its almonds from California and without the countless gallons of water it takes to quench almonds’ thirst, the supply interruption could spell a real business challenge. When surface water availability is reduced by drought, farmers turn to groundwater to maintain yields. This has created a significant deficit in some California aquifers. The company is helping to finance this research, which includes an on-farm groundwater recharge pilot near Fresno. In future wet years, floodwater from the nearby rivers will be redirected to flood the farmland where it will then seep into the ground and raise water levels in the aquifer below. This water is then stored to be used in future drought years. 

This targeted, basin level approach to water conservation raises an important point--that, unlike carbon, water is a localized issue that must be addressed at the local, or watershed level.
General Mills is one of a growing number of food and beverage companies that understands this. To this end, it conducted an assessment of key regions to identify at-risk watersheds that could impact the health of its business and the surrounding communities.

Since 2012, the company has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to develop strategies for addressing its supply chain’s most at-risk watersheds, including Los Angeles and San Joaquin Valley, California.

To help secure the state’s long-term water future, it’s important for companies that source from California’s Central Valley growers to get involved in the development and implementation of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.  It is also necessary for them to encourage their growers’ active participation. Companies can do this by participating in the development of watershed-level management plans for the priority basins in California. Those plans are in development now, and General Mills is one of a few Connect the Drops members who is involved in shaping those plans.

Without this level of collaboration from food and beverage companies and others who rely on enormous amounts of water, the plans will not be fully informed and we may not see adequate progress in a timely fashion. The persistent imbalance of supply and demand in our water supply is likely the new norm, but collaborations like the one between Ceres, General Mills and others can put us on a more sustainable pathway for the future. 

About Kirsten James, Senior Manager, California Policy and Partnerships for CERES
Kirsten James develops strategy and policy objectives for Ceres’s California-focused work. She is the lead for tracking and evaluating important statewide policy initiatives and implementation. Kirsten also helps establish and maintain business and investor partnerships within California and collaborates with the Policy and Water Programs to mobilize them in support of public policies that call for sustainable water management, clean energy and greenhouse gas emissions reductions in California.

Prior to Ceres, Kirsten worked for over 9 years at the Santa Monica-based environmental group, Heal the Bay. She served as their Science and Policy Director, leading the organization’s efforts related to statewide and regional water quality and water supply policy and regulation. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a Masters of Environmental Science and Management from the Bren School at University of California Santa Barbara.


Mollie Wulff
+1 (763) 764-3157
General Mills
Keywords: Environment & Climate Change | CERES | California drought | Energy | General Mills | watershed | water stewardship