California Adopts Historic Groundwater Legislation

Published Aug 29, 2014

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. (Aug. 29, 2014) — As California suffers through the third year of a record-breaking drought, state lawmakers agreed today to require more sweeping oversight of the state’s groundwater resources.

California legislators approved Senate Bill 1168 and Assembly Bill 1739, which together call for stricter management of groundwater supplies by local agencies while giving the state the ability to step in when necessary. Up until now, California was the only state in the nation that did not comprehensively monitor or regulate groundwater.

Record dry conditions in California have forced farmers and others to rely more heavily on groundwater supplies. Excessive pumping of this dwindling resource has resulted in a host of problems including land subsidence, saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers, harm to ecosystems, and increased conflicts among water users.  

Last week, 48 top water experts wrote an open letter to California legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown asking them to help solve this critical problem by adopting a policy of sustainable groundwater management this year. The letter, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said that California must require local agencies to collect basic groundwater data and to develop plans to manage groundwater using sustainable yield metrics by 2020.

Below is a press statement by Juliet Christian-Smith, UCS climate scientist who specializes in Western water issues:

“This timely action by California lawmakers to better protect our vital groundwater supplies will help the state prepare for future water challenges. Sustainable groundwater management is critical as global warming makes longer and more severe droughts more likely in the coming decades.

“Improved groundwater management will help to ensure that California has reliable water resources in dry years and is able to adapt to a changing climate. But since we can’t manage what we don’t measure, the success of California’s groundwater policy will depend on accurate measurement and monitoring of groundwater usage across the state. 

“Make no mistake, there is still much more work to be done to ensure that local groundwater sustainability plans are science-based and involve a range of stakeholders. The Union of Concerned Scientists looks forward to working with local groundwater managers to protect groundwater for current and future Californians.”