Just minutes ago, I stood in Governor Jerry Brown's office while he signed historic legislation regulating California groundwater.
Incredibly, until today, California was the only western state without groundwater regulations. For decades, Californians have used more groundwater than we have replenished, and water levels have dropped at an alarming rate. In the current drought, as other water resources have declined, groundwater has been supplying more than half of California’s water needs.
As the Sacramento Bee describes the problem:
For as long as California has been a state, groundwater has remained its most exclusively private natural resource. Property owners, in many cases, can drill a well and extract all the water they want, without so much as a friendly wave to neighbors or any government agency.
California is the only state in America so completely lacking in groundwater regulation. The effects have been contentious in this drought year: Aquifers statewide are being rapidly depleted, according to available data, in some cases causing vast swaths of the overlying land to collapse and causing millions of dollars in damage to surface infrastructure, such as roads and canals.
That's what makes these new laws and this moment such a game-changer. It wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of bill authors Senator Fran Pavley and Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, and thousands of CLCV supporters and other environmental advocates who stood up and demanded that the state legislature pass new laws to protect this important source of water for Californians.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, the new groundwater regulations are "the most significant California water law in nearly 50 years":
The legislation would require local government officials to bring their groundwater basins up to sustainable levels. Local agencies would be required to regularly measure water tables and set goals so that only as much water is taken out as is naturally replenished.
Agencies in the most over-pumped basins will be required to submit plans to the state by January 2020. It could be decades, experts say, before the most depleted groundwater basins are replenished.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, and Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, is designed to halt over-pumping by directing local public agencies to establish groundwater entities that will develop management plans. If local agencies don't take action, the State Water Resources Control Board can step in and do it.
We thank the governor for his signature, and thank Senator Pavley and Assemblymember Dickinson for authoring the legislation.
But our work to better manage our most precious resource, especially during the historic drought, is far from over. CLCV is committed to working with our allies over the next several years to make even more progress on protecting clean, sustainable sources of water.
While suffering from one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, California has reduced water allocations to farmers, and local water agencies have mandated water conservation. Many communities that rely on wells have lost their water supplies. Drinking water is being contaminated. Ecosystems and aquatic species are losing their water supplies. Meanwhile, a major new analysis of the state’s groundwater resources found an "alarming lack of information” about California’s biggest reservoir.
The new laws signed today require the development of groundwater management plans in about 120 groundwater basins and provide for the inclusion of communities in the development of these plans. They require monitoring and reporting essential to understanding the health of the aquifer, require state intervention if local entities fail to meet certain deadlines, and ensure that environmental and community impacts are part of planning and decision-making.
These new groundwater regulations put California on the right path, but we’re not at the finish line yet. We're very grateful to our members and allies who make it possible to continue the hard work to protect this most precious resource.