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Water Agencies
Water in California is complicated and governing water use is arguably even more complicated. Here's what you need to know about all those water agencies on your ballot.
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Water in California is complicated…and governing water use is arguably even more complicated. Local water agencies are as diverse as the communities and landscapes of California. There are thousands of agencies across the state, both public and private, that provide water. They range from a system serving a single mobile home park to huge agencies serving millions of people and businesses and thousands of acres of farmland.

Some water agencies’ governing boards are appointed by a county board of supervisors or city council. The five-member board that oversees the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is appointed by the L.A. mayor and serve for five-year terms, for example. Others are directly elected by voters. Those are the ones you’ll see on your ballot.

More Voter Guides

City of Los Angeles

L.A. County

  • Sheriff: Compare the two candidates for L.A. County sheriff
  • Water Agencies: Learn what they do and what to look for in a candidate

How to evaluate judges

California propositions

  • Propositions 26 and 27: The difference between the sports betting ballot measures
  • Proposition 29: Why kidney dialysis is on your ballot for the third time
  • Proposition 30: Why Lyft is the biggest funder of this ballot measure

Head to the Voter Game Plan homepage for guides to the rest of your ballot.

There are also private, for-profit investor-owned and operated water agencies and other types of private water companies that have neither elected nor publicly appointed officials, such as the California American Water Company, which provides water for about 675,000 homes and businesses across California. They’re regulated at the state level by the State Water Resources Control Board and California Public Utilities Commission (both of which have their oversight boards appointed by the Governor). Because the governing systems for these types of for-profit water agencies are not directly elected by the public, we won’t talk about those any further in this guide.

What do water agencies do?

The statewide patchwork of water regulations and agencies means your specific water provider’s responsibilities will likely vary, but generally they’re making decisions on everything from setting water rates to how to spend public funds on water quality and safety to developing new sources of local water and planning for long-term water sustainability amid worsening drought cycles.

Though where your water comes from can vary dramatically depending on where you live, many water agencies purchase some amount of water from the major state and federal-owned water projects, such as theState Water Project, and manage that water for farms, businesses and residents along with local groundwater sources. Water agencies are also responsible for managing other sources of water supply, such as recycling water or pursuing ocean desalination projects.

Water agencies’ size and power vary dramatically, from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves nearly 19 million people across six counties, to tiny water agencies that serve just a handful of customers.

Despite the high stakes for the future of water in California, these are often low-profile races and many people repeatedly run unopposed, leading to a lack of accountability and misgovernance. A study found that between 2014 and 2018, 75% of local water boards in unincorporated communities in California didn’t hold elections. In L.A. County, the majority of water board elections have been canceled this year.

Before you keep reading…
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One topic local water agencies play a big role in? Drought. Water agencies can:

  • Make decisions on water rates and address water quality concerns
  • Mandate water conservation measures, such as the number of days you can run sprinklers.
  • Decide on programs to invest in, such as rebates for replacing lawns and water-guzzling appliances 
  • Develop long-term drought resilience plans that have to be approved by the state
  • Decide what methods to pursue to expand local water supplies (including water recycling, stormwater capture, and groundwater replenishment)
  • Support customers with information about their water and available financial and other assistance programs

One very current example of why local water agencies matter: California has a voluntary 15% cut in water use in place right now (though there are some statewide mandatory measures in place), leaving it up to local water agencies to decide when and how much of a cut to mandate in their district and how to get there.

For example, southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to dozens of its member cities and water agencies in the Southland, declared a water shortage emergency in April. By declaring an emergency, the water district forced member cities and agencies to take steps to reign in water use. That’s what prompted the stricter outdoor watering rules we’ve had here in L.A. this summer.

This is also why you see different outdoor watering rules across the state and squabbling about whether each part of the state is doing its fair share to help California make it through this current drought.

In addition to providing water supplies, many local water agencies also oversee flood control, sewers, and even parks and other recreational spaces.

What does each type of water agency do?

In theCalifornia Water Code alone, there are more than ten types of water agencies. One study identified 26 different types of water systems across the state. A UCLA study categorized six major types of water systems in California.

The agencies you’re most likely to see on your ballot are some kind of city- or county-run agency or “special district." These are local public agencies that provide many of the same services as a city government. Special districts can be responsible for a specific task, such as supplying affordable water, or they can be responsible for a wide range of public services such as flood control, sewer management, and providing electricity. The most common types of special districts that act as local water providers are irrigation districts, community services districts, public utility districts, municipal water districts and irrigation districts.

On the L.A. County ballot, you may see candidates running for:

  • Municipal or county water district: In L.A. County you might see the Central Basin Municipal Water District, which serves about 2 million people in Compton, Bell Gardens, East L.A. and 21 other cities and unincorporated areas across southeast L.A. County. 
  • Irrigation district: One of the most important irrigation districts in the western U.S. is the Imperial Irrigation District, which provides water and electricity to homes, businesses and about 500,000 acres of farmland in Imperial County and parts of the Coachella Valley in Riverside County. The district holds the largest share of water rights to California’s portion of the dwindling Colorado River. 
  • Water agency (this is not a legal term like the others listed, but we're including because you may see this description on your ballot): One example is the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency, which is holding its second election since emerging from the consolidation of several smaller agencies in 2018. The agency serves 273,000 people and businesses. 
  • Water replenishment district: The Water Replenishment District of Southern California manages groundwater serving 4 million people from Long Beach to Inglewood to Whittier, a total of 43 cities across southern L.A. county. 

Each type of water agency has its own set of laws that lay out its purpose, who can serve on the governing board, and how those members are elected or appointed.
Different agencies can also have different responsibilities: some manage only water supplies, others both water and power, some also oversee sewage and flood systems. That makes it challenging to offer a generalized overview of what each of these governing bodies above does. However, UCLA created this handy map that details the many types of water governance systems just in L.A. County.

Key Issues

The primary responsibility of any agency overseeing a drinking water system is to keep water safe and clean.

Extreme drought and water resilience in the face of an increasingly dry future is also a top concern. Local water agencies make decisions about developing new local water supplies, such as recycling wastewater, capturing stormwater and replenishing groundwater.

Water affordability is another big consideration for water agencies as increasingly severe drought cycles and aging infrastructure affects rates.

Water officials today are making decisions that will affect water availability, water rates, and long-term drought resilience for decades to come.

One local example? Angelenos have been allowed to water outside during the current drought twice a week instead of once a week like many cities, in part due to conservation measures put in place before the regional mandate, according to city officials.

What should I consider in a candidate?

To serve on a water board, candidates have to live in the specific area the board serves, just like running for city council or the school board. Some districts also require those running for election to be a landowner, which can exclude many otherwise qualified candidates and is a requirement many experts consider outdated.

Terms are usually between two and four years, but the limit on terms varies wildly. These positions often go unopposed, so board members might end up serving for decades. That’s something to keep an eye out for. Is someone in your district running against someone who’s sat on the board for a long time? How are they planning to tackle the situation differently from the incumbent?

Board members can range from business owners to farmers to environmentalists to scientists to water managers to policy experts to engineers. For example, in rural areas, board members often have a connection to agriculture or their campaigns are heavily funded by agricultural players with a major interest in water.

When deciding how to vote, you might want to consider the background of someone who’s running for water board and how that influences how they think about water policy. Some expertise in water policy and water issues is also clearly relevant.

More reading

Experts we spoke to for this piece:

  • Greg Pierce, Co-Director of the Water Resources Group at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and director of the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab.
Before you keep reading…
Dear voter, we're asking you to help us keep local election news widely available for all today. Your financial support allows our reporters to research candidates and provide you and your neighbors the tools you need to make informed decisions when casting your ballot. When reliable local election reporting is widely available, the entire community benefits. Thank you for investing in your neighborhood.


    What's on your ballot

    Depending on where you live in L.A. County, you’ll see the following races on your ballot.


    Central Basin Municipal Water District Board, Division 3

    Arturo Chacon, Water Board Director

    Leonard Mendoza, Water professional

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Mendoza provided information on Voter's Edge.

    Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board, Division 1

    Carlos Goytia, Director/Senior Groundsmen

    Frank Carlos Guzman, Non-Profit Executive Director


    Division 3

    Brian Bowcock, Incumbent

    Jeff Hanlon, Water Educator/Scientist

    Javier Aguilar, Regional Urban Planner


    Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District Board

    Division 1

    Serge Haddad, Environmental Water Engineer

    Tony Fellow, Director, Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, Division 1


    Division 5

    Roman Rodriguez, Recreation Supervisor

    Jennifer Santana, Water Director/Scientist


    West Basin Muncipal Water District Board

    Division 1

    Harold Williams, Board member, West Basin Municipal Water District Division 1

    Carol Kwan, Clean Water Advocate

    Division 4

    Scott Houston, Director, West Basin Municipal Water District Division 4

    Sanjay Gaur, Water Resource Economist


    Water Replenishment District of Southern California

    Division 1

    Joy Langford, Appointed Director, Water Replenishment

    Gerard McCallum, Environmental Regulatory Manager

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Read more about Gerard McCallum's priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

    Janna Elizabeth Zurita, Trustee, Abatement District

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Read more about Janna Elizabeth Zurita's priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

    Division 3

    John Allen, Director, Water Replenishment District

    Mike Murchison, Water Infrastructure Advocate

    Gerrie Schipske, Water Ratepayer Advocate


    Division 4

    Jose R. Gonzalez, Executive/Vice-Mayor/Educator

    Sergio Joseph Calderon, Water Director/Teacher


    Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency, Division 3

    Frank S. Donato, Director, Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency

    Mike Lang, Retired Executive

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Lang provided no information on Voter's Edge, but you can request that they provide it.

    Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency

    Division 1

    Bill Cooper, Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency Board Director

    Melissa K. Cantu, High School Teacher

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Cantu provided no information on Voter's Edge, but you can request that they provide it.

    Nicole Wilson, Fiscal Policy Analyst


    Division 2

    Kathy Colley, Registered Nurse

    Dirk Marks, Water Resources Engineer

    Sage G. Rafferty, Water Equipment Engineer


    Division 3

    Lynne Plambeck, Boardmember, Santa Clarita Water Agency Division 3

    Maria Gutzeit, Appointed Board Member, Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency


    Crescenta Valley Water District

    James Bodnar, Director/Manager/Engineer

    Kerry Erickson, Incumbent

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Erickson provided no information on Voter's Edge, but you can request that they provide it.

    Jeffery W. Johnson, Attorney

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Read more about Johnson's priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

    Alec Hyeler, Engineer

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Read more about Hyeler's priorities and experience on Voter's Edge

    Orchard Dale Water District

    Charles Luas, Incumbent 

    Joseph Velasco III, Incumbent

    Denise Dolor, Incumbent

    Kevin Noonan, Weather Forecaster

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Noonan provided no information on Voter’s edge but you can request that they provide it.

    Rowland Water District, Division 3

    John Edward Bellah, Incumbent

    Karl Johan Ljungberg (No title listed)

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Ljungberg provided no information on Voter’s edge.

    Palmdale Water District, Division 2

    Don F. Wilson, Incumbent 

    Yvette Silva, Small Business Owner

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Silva provided no information on Voter's Edge.

    Walnut Valley Water District, Division 2

    Andrew Y. Wong, City Commissioner

    • Campaign website: No campaign website
    • Endorsements: None listed
    • Wong provided no information on Voter's Edge.

    Edwin Hilden, Incumbent


    More Voter Guides

    City of Los Angeles

    L.A. County

    • Sheriff: Compare the two candidates for L.A. County sheriff
    • Water Agencies: Learn what they do and what to look for in a candidate

    How to evaluate judges

    California propositions

    • Propositions 26 and 27: The difference between the sports betting ballot measures
    • Proposition 29: Why kidney dialysis is on your ballot for the third time
    • Proposition 30: Why Lyft is the biggest funder of this ballot measure

    Head to the Voter Game Plan homepage for guides to the rest of your ballot.

    Updated October 18, 2022 at 8:57 PM PDT
    This story was updated to include new candidate endorsements.