Water Leadership Institute

History & Purpose

Rural Community Assistance Corporation began the first Leadership Institute in 2004. Then in 2013, the first Water Leadership Institute was held as a partnership program between RCAC, Self-Help Enterprises and Environmental Defense Fund. It has since grown and evolved, with an average of two to four cohorts per year, and over 60 communities served across the rural west.

The WLI aims to build capacity and leadership skills in rural communities so members can effectively engage in broader water discussions and decision-making that could have a direct impact on their lives and communities. The purpose of the WLI is to develop volunteer leaders, connect them to each other and to regional resources, and to forge strong relationships that support community interests. The WLI ultimately aims to empower communities to be self-sufficient and sustainable.


  • To strengthen local water leadership, grow new leaders, and support an expanding network of community water leaders.
  • To support equitable representation of rural communities in water decision-making.
  • To connect participants to information, opportunities, and resources to effectively advocate for their own water interests.
  • To create spaces for dialogue and work toward a shared understanding of local water challenges and solutions.

WLI Topics

  • Defining Leadership
  • Communications
  • Active Listening
  • Developing a Pitch
  • Conflict Management and Resolution
  • Managing Change
  • Collaborative Solutions

  • Community Engagement
  • Water 101
  • Water History Map
  • Groundwater Game
  • Local Water topics
  • Project Development
  • Train-the-Trainer Presentations

Program Logistics

WLI is typically conducted over four full-day workshops – for example the first Saturday of the month, over four months, from 9am – 4pm. However, depending on the community availability, the workshops can be adjusted to meet local needs: instead of four full-day sessions, the workshops could be broken up into six shorter sessions, such as Wednesday evenings from 6pm – 9pm. These details and logistics should be discussed and decided upon with community partners and the recruitment committee.

Upcoming Water Leadership Institutes

  • California: The upcoming WLI will begin on March 9 in Los Banos, California for residents of rural and/or small communities in the Delta Mendota subbasin. For information on how to apply, download the flyer below.
  • New Mexico: Three WLIs are currently being held across New Mexico for utility boards and operators.
  • Arizona: A new WLI cohort is being planned for the fall of 2024.


We also offer a general Leadership Institute for boards and a Youth Leadership Institute. Click here for a list of trainings.

Download WLI flyer




Environmental Defense Fund