The California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – A Tool for Effective Groundwater Management

Groundwater management is an important topic for both conservation and environmental stewardship. Groundwater supplies the drinking water of millions of Californians and provides wildlife habitat, irrigation water for agriculture and rural communities, as well as supporting ecosystems through hydropower production. Groundwater supplies many of California’s urban areas and urban growth requires groundwater management. The San Fernando Valley is particularly vulnerable to inadequate groundwater management and needs to be carefully managed for future population growth and for the current use and development.

Groundwater management is accomplished on many levels including federal-state partnership agreements, regional management plans, water rights granted to local agencies under the water rights laws, groundwater management companies, groundwater suppliers, and public-private partnerships. Groundwater overdraft occurs when groundwater resources are used up beyond the rate of consumption. Groundwater overdrafts can occur for a number of reasons including surface water diversifications, water infrastructure aging, and/or drought conditions. When groundwater resources are overdrawn, reservoirs and aquifers are stressed and can cause severe problems for farmers and cities.

Groundwater management in the state of California has been in place for decades but needs improvement. A new bill, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, was recently passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 21st. The new sustainable groundwater management act requires all local agencies to develop and implement groundwater management plans based on sound scientific principles. These plans will allow both groundwater managers and citizens to take part in improving water quality and reducing water pollution. If implemented properly, this legislation will provide necessary guidance to local agencies in addressing the problems of overdrafting, excessive pumping and loss of ground water to developers.

One component of the new sustainable groundwater management act targets groundwater overdrafts by requiring agencies to develop and implement plans with realistic inputs and future projections. Another component focuses on proper monitoring and measuring of groundwater quality to better understand the condition of groundwater resources. Many groundwater resources are “hard-wired” into the structure of the environment, including subsidence, surface runoff, and groundwater recharge. Managers must now carefully monitor the state’s groundwater reserves to ensure that they are replenished between recharging events. This quantitative metrics requirement will help agencies assess groundwater quality and determine when it is time to begin regulating groundwater volumes.

One of the challenges presented by today’s groundwater management issues is the reluctance of local agencies to take action when there is an excessive amount of groundwater loss or excessive pumping of groundwater by local agencies. The new law hopes to address these problems through the use of quantitative metrics. Quantitative metrics can be used to determine groundwater quality and quantity. In addition to quantifying quantities, quantitative metrics can be used to identify trends in groundwater management. Through the use of quantitative metrics developed by local agencies, the state can proactively manage groundwater management and ensure the long-term sustainability of groundwater resources.

Groundwater management in the state of California is a challenge that must be addressed if Californians want to ensure the long-term health and prosperity of California’s groundwater supplies. The new sustainable groundwater management act encourages local agencies to develop and implement groundwater management plans that take into account both short-term and long-term goals. The act also requires the state to collaborate with local agencies and stakeholders to address these problems before they become major environmental concerns.

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