California Must Act Now to Protect Groundwater Supplies

By Lester Snow, executive director of the California Water Foundation

A statewide poll released last week confirmed that voters are not only aware of the water crisis but want to see action taken now to address it. A major step – one that received strong, statewide bipartisan support in the survey – included requiring  sustainable management of California’s groundwater resources As part of that, Californians acknowledged that local communities need adequate tools and authorities to manage their own local groundwater.

California has relied on overdrafting our groundwater basins for decades. This “deficit spending” of water reserves, even in normal years, means diminishing the reserves for use during drought conditions.  

However, there is no statewide framework to protect groundwater supplies. Further, localities don’t have the tools and often don’t even have the information they need to protect groundwater supplies. To safeguard our drinking water, agriculture, economy and environment, we need to better manage these resources.  

Without a groundwater reserves, future droughts will have greater impacts. Groundwater is a critical part of California’s water supply, accounting for about 40 percent of the water used in normal years and up to 60 percent of the water used during droughts. Roughly 75 percent of Californians – as many as 30 million people – rely on groundwater for a portion of their drinking water. It’s crucial for the state’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry and our families.

We need to act cooperatively, both at the state and local level, to change the broken status quo. Seventy-eight percent of voters say they want to see action now. We need to establish a statewide program that includes a sustainable groundwater management goal, and provides local communities with the tools to prepare local groundwater plans that describe how they will achieve sustainability of their supplies. There are two pieces of legislation in the state Senate and Assembly that could help. Both Senate Bill 1168 (Pavley) and Assembly Bill 1739 (Dickinson) will provide the framework and needed oversight to advance sustainable management of groundwater basins.

These bills provide localities with better tools to manage their groundwater and sustain their economies and provide a buffer for future droughts. The state must provide greater technical guidance and financial support to localities as needed. Managed correctly, California’s groundwater will provide a dependable and long-term supply of water for current and future generations. 

Groundwater can also provide an essential buffer against droughts and continue playing a major role in providing Californians with drinking water and a resource for crops. But the groundwater will only be there to help us if we do our part to take care of this precious natural resource.

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