Persistent California drought conditions began to impact groundwater and snowpack levels in 2007[1]. Governor Brown declared the end of California’s Drought emergency in 2017. However, Valley Communities, as well as other communities in California, remain in a drought emergency. These conditions have pushed thousands of Valley residents to the brink of crisis – dry wells, an increased reliance on bottled drinking water and even residential relocation programs for some of the hardest hit areas. The crisis also reveals the stark reality of an inequitable water distribution system borne out unevenly in mostly rural and underserved Valley communities, often times communities of color.

The Central Valley Community Foundation (CVCF) in partnership with The California Endowment and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation recognized that during this period of crisis the confluence of environmental drought conditions, community health, and regional water management opened up a space for discussions about long-term drought solutions that address the complex social and economic factors shaping water distribution in the Valley.

In 2016, as a response to the 2015 foundation report, Beyond Almonds and Blond Lawns[2] – a report created in partnership with the California Endowment and the Kern Community Foundation, CVCF launched Central Valley Leaders Effectively Addressing the Drought (CV LEAD). This initiative included providing both grantmaking support and capacity-building assistance to the community benefit organizations/nonprofits working in the six-county service region of the Foundation (Mariposa, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, and Kings Counties).

CVCF retained Open Mind Consulting as a thought partner to launch this initiative in August 2016. The Goals were to 1) Increase readiness among Valley nonprofit organizations and leaders to identify and address long-term solutions to drought, and 2) Build capacity among Valley nonprofit organizations to support and sustain their engagement in finding long-term solutions to drought, while continuing to respond to an increase in service demands due to drought conditions. This report chronicles the work of that initiative, Central Valley Leaders Effectively Addressing the Drought (CV LEAD), and presents results and lessons learned that can help guide the work of other funders interested in building capacity to address complex social and environmental challenges in similar regions of California and across the nation.

[1] Water Deeply California Drought timeline –

[2] The full report can be found here: