After three years of severe drought, the California legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, which creates a statewide framework for groundwater regulation. This legislation came into effect on January 1, 2015, and presents local water agencies with significant opportunities and challenges. Those challenges and potential solutions were the topic of a 2015 Uncommon Dialogue convened by Water in the West and the Nature Conservancy of California, which served as the basis of a new report issued August 5.
During that Uncommon Dialogue event, groundwater managers, state officials and other stakeholders discussed the changing landscape of groundwater management in California, including hurdles that local agencies will likely face during implementation of the act. They also proposed potential short-term solutions to address these challenges.
Prior to passage of the act, groundwater use in California was largely unregulated. The unconstrained use of this resource has led to widespread lowering of water tables, drying of domestic wells, land subsidence and corresponding damage to infrastructure, increased energy costs from pumping from greater depth, the reduction or elimination of baseflow to streams and rivers, diminished water quality, and the loss of groundwater-dependent ecosystems.
The Act presents a significant opportunity to address these impacts and ensure that groundwater resources are available to meet long-term water needs, according to the Uncommon Dialogue report. It notes that governments and agencies will need to work closely with research institutions, policy centers, non-governmental organizations, trade associations, facilitators, groundwater users, and the public to develop robust and timely solutions that address all interests. Failure to do so may result in legal battles and continued degradation of groundwater resources.