Editorials

August 26, 2014

EDITORIAL: It's time to safeguard California's groundwater

It is clear that bills to create a system for managing groundwater will be debated up until the final minutes of the session in the California Legislature.

It is clear that bills to create a system for managing groundwater will be debated up until the final minutes of the session in the California Legislature.

Senate Bill 1168 by Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, and Assembly Bill 1739 by Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, have been through a process beginning early this year that engages various water users and organizations.

Their legislation would establish a framework to assess, manage and protect groundwater through local agencies. The agencies would be able to monitor groundwater levels and quality, and limit exports and the amount of water extracted.

But these bills aren't perfect. Interests in the Valley and the delta point out that groundwater management alone won't sustain our water needs. We must replenish reservoirs, too, because reservoirs and groundwater are tightly connected.

We encourage lawmakers in both houses to do more listening and work doubly hard to address the concerns of all stakeholders. Legislators have a duty to send a groundwater management plan to Gov. Brown's desk by the 11:59 p.m. Sunday deadline.

There has been a tenuous agreement among some water agencies and some farmers that the time has come for a statewide assessment of groundwater and regulations to protect a resource that has become critical in this third year of severe drought.

Farmers have relied heavily on groundwater for the state's $45 billion agriculture business.

In most years, groundwater accounts for about one-third of the state's water supply. This year, more than 60% of water for agriculture is pumped from the ground. Wells have gone dry, deeper wells have been drilled, and land subsidence has made it clear that groundwater regulation is needed. Finally, consider that landowners outside of water districts are pumping furiously, immune to any protestations, and selling groundwater for enormous profits.

California does not have a statewide system to monitor groundwater, and it is the only state that allows people to pump groundwater to the detriment of others. Some farm interests say the state is moving too fast to formulate a plan to manage groundwater. But more than 50 years ago, an Assembly report cited the problem of overpumping groundwater as critical.

For half a century, California has recognized the need for groundwater management. Lawmakers must find common ground and move forward to monitor our precious water supply.

 

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