Groundwater Bill Opens Door to Restrictions on Wells

Posted in: Drinking Water News, Ground Water News, United States Water News
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Article Courtesy of Dana Nichols|The Calaveras Enterprise|September 19, 2014|Shared as Educational Material

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed several bills that will for the first time regulate the pumping of groundwater, opening the door to restrictions on wells.

The laws seek to make groundwater supplies sustainable by requiring local agencies to adopt policies that will end the gradual decline in groundwater levels.

Although groundwater basins have suffered from overpumping for decades, the present drought made the problem more urgent as some water users increased well pumping to save crops or provide drinking water, and thus caused other well owners to see their supplies reduced or eliminated.

“We have to learn to manage wisely water, energy, land and our investments,” Brown said. “That’s why this is important.”

In Calaveras County, the regulations are most likely to affect owners of wells on the far western edge of the county near Wallace and Burson that tap into the East San Joaquin Aquifer sub basin.

That basin is in decline mostly due to heavy use by farms and cities in nearby San Joaquin County.

Calaveras County officials say that the law is unlikely to have much impact on most owners of private residential wells because most of those wells tap into sources that are in cracks within rocky formations rather than the enormous groundwater basins that are beneath the Central Valley.

Also, the changes will be gradual even for those well owners who ultimately do face restrictions. Local groundwater agencies – often county governments – must be identified and operating by 2017. Plans for groundwater sustainability have to be in place by 2020 for overdrafted basins such as the East San Joaquin sub basin.

The worst-impacted groundwater basins will be required to have achieved sustainability by 2040. Lawmakers say that means that the groundwater level should no longer be dropping by that date.

Advocates for the bills cheered Tuesday’s signing.

Lester Snow, executive director of the California Water Foundation, praised Brown as well as Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) for the new groundwater laws.

“Thanks to their commitment, California will no longer carry the dubious distinction of being the only state in the West that doesn’t have state standards and requirements for managing a resource as invaluable as groundwater.”

But agricultural interests remain critical of the laws and say the laws could be a drain on economic growth and food production.

Many farmers depend on wells to farm, or to save valuable orchards and vineyards during droughts. And farm interests have been frustrated in recent years not to be able to win approval for new dams and other projects that could increase surface water supplies and reduce their dependence on well pumping.

“If we want to make groundwater supplies truly sustainable, we must make sure all water needs can be met through addition of more surface water storage and better management of the storage we already have,” said California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger.


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