California Lawmakers Consider Limiting Groundwater Pumping with Landmark Regulations

Lawmakers and Jerry Brown are currently working on what may be the most significant water law passed in the state in approximately 50 years. Which makes sense, as California is currently deep into a historic drought. The regulations, if passed, would regulate groundwater pumping for the first time. The deadline for the session is August 31, and the pressure is on—billions of dollars are at stake. With the end of the session looming, the negotiations between farmers, city officials, environmentalists, and lawmakers are reaching a heated crescendo.  If a landowner is looking to divert water from reservoirs or other water sources, restrictions have been in place for such diversion since 1914. However, if farmers and cities if they want to tap into underground aquifers, they can do so unrestricted with little-to-no oversight. This unrestricted pumping has dropped underground water to dangerously low numbers. Places such as the San Joaquin Valley and Paso Robles are at risk of pumping the region’s aquifers dry.  Lester Snow, former director of the state Department of Water Resources called the system “a shared bank account” where “nobody ever has to balance the checkbook. It has to come to an end,” he added. If the bill were to pass, local agencies would have to measure water tables and set goals to make sure any water that is taken out is naturally replenished.  Others are not as enthusiastic about the bill’s potential impacts.  "At some point in time there has to be some accountability, and we have to get a handle on how much we are pumping," said Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. "But this is bad legislation and we oppose it. We're afraid that if it passes, the unintended consequences are going to be huge. The financial impacts are going to be huge." Wenger worries that if the bill was too broadly written, it could allow regulators to limit the amount of water pumped from wells by farmers. Environmental groups, on the other hand, support the regulations, but worry they will be weakened by “backroom dealing” in the days leading up to the law being introduced. Read more about the rules here.

 


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