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Funding Your Water Management Programs

How to Successfully Apply for an IRWM Grant in California

4.0 minute read

May 19, 2021

If you’re seeking a way to fund your critical water resource and management projects, you may have a solution in the form of a grant from the Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) program.

Overseen by the California Department of Water Resources, the IRWM program encourages and funds water resource projects proposed by stakeholders who band together at the regional level as opposed to individual municipalities. The consensus-based program flows across jurisdictional, political, and watershed boundaries and integrates multiples agencies, stakeholders, and individuals.

At present, there are 40 different regional groups comprising those with water responsibility for their respective cities.

The program represents an intentional shift in how water management is funded—moving from earmarking to pooling resources. It encourages different constituents to work in partnerships in addressing common problems and incentivizes prioritizing projects with broader regional benefits to get more bang-for-their-grant-bucks. Projects can range from water conservation to resource availability to sanitation.

IRWM Funding—Then, Now, and into the Future

The 2022 climate resiliency bond will allocate as much as $2 billion for water resources and $1 billion for the IRWM.

Aspects of the IRWM program have been in place since the 1970s, but only within the last two decades has it become a central part of California’s approach to water management. Since the legislature passed the 2002 Regional Water Management Act, California voters have approved over $1.5 billion in state funding for integrated, multi-benefit regional projects.

The California Water Plan (also known as Bulletin 160) is updated every five years with several rounds of funding occurring in the past 15 years. By the 2013 update, the Department of Water Resources had already recognized 48 IRWM planning areas accounting for 87% of California’s total area and 99% of its population.

The latest round of funding is coming to an end, with less than $300 million left in the grant pot. However, a large influx of new funding is on the horizon. The 2022 climate resiliency bond will allocate as much as $2 billion for water resources and $1 billion for the IRWM. Additionally, there may be stimulus funding on the way from the federal government to assist with water resource projects.

Preparing for the Next Round of IRWM Funding

What do you need to do before sitting down to write your IRWM grant application? Building on what you’ve already accomplished and the relationships you’ve developed so far is key. At Harris, we recommend revisiting plans and documenting priority projects for your city and your region. Then communicate these priorities to stakeholders and get everyone organized and advocating together. Find similarities and ways to leverage your efforts.

It’s important to remember that these IRWM grants are competitive. You want your application to stand out in a crowded field. Here are a few tips that can help set yours apart:

  • Understand where your reviewers are coming from. They’re looking at lots of applications, and they may not be familiar with the exact details of your existing and proposed water resource management projects or the problems in your region. Make their job of understanding and scoring your application as easy as possible. Explain unique terms, spell out acronyms, and, most of all, create a compelling and polished package for your projects.
  • Have all the right documentation. The more shovel-ready your projects are, the better. Be sure to include all the required documents and carefully review your budget numbers and financial proposals. Check that they are realistic and doable and do your best to prove that you will actually be able to carry out your plans.
  • Feel free to brag some! The IRWM program likes to fund successful initiatives. Tell the story of where you’ve already made a difference in collaborative, regional management of water resources and document previous progress with environmental clearance and land acquisition. Explain how individual benefits link to and have directly led to larger regional advantages. In general, highlight your strengths as well as your needs.
  • Pay attention to details. Remember to provide a timeline for your proposed projects and a plan for how you will manage achieving milestones and goals in a timely fashion. Follow all application guidelines and grant instructions to the letter and leave enough time for your regional partners to review the application and weigh in on both content and editing.

Add Harris to Your Team

The water finance experts at Harris understand the ins and outs of IRWM grant applications. We can help your group successfully obtain water resource management funding in the next round and create a strategy to fund your regional projects in the future.

To learn more, contact our experts below!


Ann Hajnosz, PE

Ann Hajnosz, PE

Vice President / Resource Management & Consulting Operations


Ann Hajnosz, PE


Harris & Associates




Advisory Services
Infrastructure + Utilities
Risk + Resilience


Grant Writing
Grant Funding