California Water Leaders
Program Overview & Requirements
Led by Executive Director Jenn Bowles, the Water Leaders class brings together 20 or so participants in their early to mid-career from across California and various stakeholder groups. The program deepens knowledge on water, enhances individual leadership skills and prepares class members to take an active, cooperative approach to decision-making about water resource issues. Each class member is paired up with a mentor from a leading stakeholder group or who works as a policymaker.
The program began in 1997 and now boasts more than 400 graduates. We are particularly proud that several of our Water Leaders graduates have gone on to achieve top positions at the state Legislature, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and leading private companies involved in water. Check out our profiles under Where are They Now?
The application period for the 2023 California Water Leaders class is open!
Watch a short video made during our 25th anniversary celebration of the Water Leaders program in 2022 to find out what alums say about it.
The program is named for William R. “Bill” Gianelli, who served as Assistant Secretary for the Army in charge of the Corps of Engineers from 1981 to 1984 and director of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) from 1967 to 1973 during major construction on the State Water Project. He began his career with DWR in 1946. He is past president of the Water Education Foundation. He passed away in 2020 in Monterey, California. Read his obituary here, written by the journalism team at the Water Education Foundation.
Designed as a program for working professionals in early- to mid-career, participation still involves a strong time commitment from both the class member and the employer.
During the year, class members are required to:
- Attend a special one-day class orientation in January.
- Attend two Foundation water tours, including the mandatory Bay-Delta Tour.
- Attend the Foundation’s annual Water 101 Workshop, annual water conference and participate in the Water Leaders auction.
- Spend a day “shadowing” a mentor who is a major water leader (from government, urban, agriculture, environmental organization, private businesses, or public interest group).
- Interview the mentor about an issue selected for the class.
- Attend four work-group meetings throughout the year to develop policy recommendations with your cohort about the assigned topic, craft a written report and create a presentation.
- Attend the Foundation’s Board of Directors’ meeting at the end of the year (late November/early December) to present the class’s policy recommendations.
Please Note: We anticipate all events and work group meetings to be held in person in 2023. However, that could change depending on the COVID-19 situation and adjustments will be made accordingly.