Consolidation Approach - Step by Step

Consolidation occurs when one water system is dissolved and their customers are provided service by another existing water system. The step-by-step approach discussed below is designed for those water systems that have a firm commitment to consolidation. This commitment may be due to water quality or quantity problems, or because the community simply no longer feels it is able to meet the requirements of being a public water system. Below are the steps to consolidation in this case. Be aware that consolidation can take many months to several years depending on the location of pipelines, availability of private versus public funding, concerns of community members, etc. This step-by-step approach is focused on physical consolidation. However, some discussion of managerial consolidation is included as well.

Step 1 - Find a Public Water System(s) Near You

Look for the Boundaries of nearby Public Water Systems (three possibilities):

  • Consolidation Outreach Map Tool
    This map tool allows users to perform a spatial query to locate water systems near an address or other existing water system.
  • Drinking Water Watch
    All active and inactive public water systems in California are provided on this website as well as a contact phone number or address for the public water system. The listing can be filtered by county, but no map is provided. This database also indicates whether the water source is groundwater "G" or surface water "S", which is important in Step 2 "Check Service Boundaries."
  • Contact the Division of Drinking Water District Office: Division of Drinking Water Map of Offices and Contacts
    If you are unable to find a public water system nearby using the tools above, please contact the district engineer for additional support.
    If no water systems are close enough for physical consolidation, consider discussing managerial consolidation.

Step 2 - Check Service Boundaries

There are many types of planning boundaries that define local jurisdiction. The most significant of these include LAFCO's sphere of influence boundaries, utility service area boundaries, and water rights place of use boundaries. Consolidation is easiest when the water system to be subsumed is already located inside the boundaries of the receiving system. Otherwise, additional steps may be required. Use the planning boundaries below to determine if changes may be necessary.

Utility Service Area Boundaries - Water utilities typically have service area boundaries that define where they provide services. Obtain a map showing where these boundaries are in relation to the water system. These can usually be found on the internet or by calling the utility. Many water systems can do some type of "out of area water service agreements" in the event of public health emergencies, but they may require the water system's board or local council approval.

Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) - LAFCO sphere of influence boundaries are designed to help encourage the orderly formation of local governmental agencies, preserve agricultural land resources, and discourage urban sprawl. They usually are slightly larger than utility service areas and are the general geographic direction that a City or area plans to grow. Obtain clarification of the LAFCO sphere of influence boundaries by contacting the LAFCO executive officer using the contact information provided here: In the event of public health emergencies, "extraterritorial service agreements" may be possible.

Surface Water Rights – Place of Use Boundaries - If during the previous step it was noted that the system was served by surface water, the water system likely has surface water rights with specific areas where those rights can be used, called the "Place of Use." If the existing surface water right does not include the service area of the water system to be subsumed, a Petition for Change will likely need to be filed with the State Water Resource Control Board's Division of Water Rights by the water right holder. A temporary urgency change may be appropriate under some situations involving public health, and may be faster to process. Typically, this step does not apply to managerial consolidations.

Step 3 - Contact Local Water Systems for Consolidation

Call local water systems and discuss consolidation options. Be sure to mention any public health emergency the water system to be subsumed may have. It is best to talk to a manager regarding these issues. Find out if the other water system would be willing to consider adding the water system, community, or residence as a connection. Remind them that water systems are eligible for up to $5 million in zero interest loans for completing a consolidation project with a disadvantaged water system, if applicable. If their staff indicates there are barriers, note what the barriers are. For example: service boundaries, LAFCO sphere of influence boundaries, distance to mains, supply capacity, water rights, etc. Many barriers can be overcome, but will require extra steps in the planning process, so it is important to note what they are. If physical consolidation does not immediately seem like a possibility, ask about managerial consolidation. Also note connection fees and the water rates. Don't be immediately discouraged if the connection fees seem high, funding may exist to help overcome these challenge (see Funding-Step 5).

Step 4 - Call the Division of Drinking Water District Office

Call the Division of Drinking Water SAFER Engagement Unit, or a SAFER Staff to share the information gained and discuss potential funding mechanisms, pathways to deal with barriers, other water systems, etc. The Division of Drinking Water is very supportive of consolidation projects.

Step 5 - Funding the Consolidation and Changing Boundaries

The next step is to determine how consolidation will be paid for, particularly if private capital is not available. The following website discusses the options for consolidation funding and incentives for both consolidation and regionalization: Funding and Incentives for Consolidation and Regionalization Projects.

Funding programs can provide emergency drinking water sources for residents (e.g. hauled water, bottled water, etc.) until a construction project is completed and potable water from the system is available. If there are public health issues, for example it is above a maximum contaminant level and it supplies a disadvantaged community, be sure to ask about the The Interim Emergency Drinking Water program.

Step 6 - Help Sign Up Customers with the New Public Water System

When construction of the consolidation project is completed, residents may need assistance signing up with the billing system of the new public water system. While this seems like an obvious step, it can be a time consuming process. Keeping residents informed throughout the entire consolidation process will help make this easier.

Step 7 - Dissolve the Water System

The legal entity of the subsumed water system will need to provide a written request to the Division of Drinking Water asking that its domestic water supply permit be cancelled. It will be necessary to cancel any associated business licenses and insurances for the dissolved public water system. Also consider the need to close bank accounts and transfer deeds or titles. And finally, make sure to provide important records, such as distribution maps and operations plans, to the receiving water system staff.