By Associated Press

Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that will require the first-ever rules for pumping groundwater in California. Why lawmakers and the governor acted, and what the new laws mean:

What Is Groundwater?

It’s the water that accumulates below the earth’s surface, filling empty spaces and cracks in the rock. Farmers and agencies can tap it by drilling wells. It’s an especially valuable source of water during times of drought, providing 60 percent of the state’s supply as reservoirs, rivers and other sources dry up. Some farmers even turn to dowsers, or water witches, to guide them to the underwater reserves. About 30 million Californians rely on groundwater for some portion of their drinking water supply, according to state figures.

(David Pierce/KQED)
(David Pierce/KQED)

What’s the Problem?

Some areas are being pumped faster than they can be replenished with rain, snowmelt and irrigation runoff. And as California faces the third year of a serious drought, farmers have been in an expensive race to drill the deepest wells. Over-pumping can compress soil and rocks, making them more compact and permanently reducing the underground water storage capacity. That also leads to sinking land, or subsidence, which can damage roads, canals and other structures.

How Is Groundwater Managed Now?

Not very closely. Under California’s Gold Rush-era water rights system, many landowners are entitled to pump as much as they please on their property. Other states treat groundwater as a shared resource regulated and monitored by state agencies. Some local agencies in California have sustainable plans for managing groundwater, but no statewide standards currently exist.

What’s the Proposed Solution?

The legislation signed Tuesday maintains a local approach with state oversight. It requires agencies in fast-depleting basins to draw up sustainability plans and allows for water meters and fines for monitoring and enforcement. It does not go as far as other Western states by granting state agencies the power to authorize or prohibit groundwater withdrawals, but the California Water Resources Control Board can now intervene if locals fail to act or come up with inadequate solutions.

Who Is Affected by the Legislation?

The state water department identifies 127 groundwater basins and sub-basins that are high or medium priority for monitoring, mostly concentrated along the agriculture-heavy Central Valley and some areas surrounding Los Angeles. That’s only a quarter of all California groundwater basins, but they account for almost 96 percent of California’s groundwater pumping.

How Will the New Laws Roll Out?
First, local land planners have until 2017 to choose or establish a groundwater sustainability agency. Those agencies then have until 2020 or 2022, depending on how dire their situation is, to draw up sustainability plans. Those plans should put groundwater basins on a path to sustainability by 2040.

Who Supports and Who Opposes the Laws?

Democratic lawmakers pushed the legislation, ultimately winning support from key groups that include the Association of California Water Agencies and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. But Republicans and some Central Valley Democrats opposed the bills, saying they would infringe on property rights and hurt well-managed agencies. The legislation drew the ire of some agricultural interests that are increasingly dependent on groundwater, such as the California Farm Bureau.

  • Nick

    It is strange to think there used to be a 30-foot deep lake in Tulare county, and now the ground water is way below the surface and dropping.

  • Rufus Throckmorton

    And yet NOT ONE person is proposing more dams, yes PLURAL damS. Dams could help replenish groundwater if needed. But, of course, everything BUT humans is more important, so how dare we even consider dams. What an easy solution to an ongoing problem …… perhaps the democrats see this as an opportunity to take more and more control over all our lives? Just think, if they can control the water that farmers get, they control the food supply, and a good portion of California’s economy.

    • jwh018

      True. Dams would be what most communities would be working on.

    • Jean Ann Smith

      Dams work if there’s water to run off into the dammed lake. There is no run-off.

      • Rufus Throckmorton

        Well, Jean, perhaps you should educate yourself as to WHY there isn’t any water in our current dams …… maybe its because they keep letting it out for a few fishy’s and other NON-HUMAN UN-uses! We would have plenty of water if this wasn’t done, or even just severely curtailed. More dams means holding MORE water from MORE than just one year’s worth of run-off.

        • Jean Ann Smith

          I repeat, with no water there is no point in damming. Perhaps if I say it nice and slow for you…water from the sky goes onto the ground. It runs doooown the mountain side. This land, my child, is called watershed. The water goes into the dammed reservoir. It is released for any number of reasons, among which are annual fish runs and hydroelectric power…anyhow, with no water, my child, there is no reservoir and no need for a dam.

          • Rufus Throckmorton

            Dufus Jean,
            Dam’s allow one to collect water over many years and this water can be diverted to groundwater storage (instead of for the fishy’s that no one needs, and LA county). With more dams, there would be less shortages and more water for everyone. Just think, we could allow even more environmental wack–jobs come to kalifornia!

        • Markle

          There are more humans on this Earth than Central Valley farmers. Some of these humans depend upon or otherwise value these “fishy’s”(sic) Perhaps you should educate yourself on the value of that water that you wouldn’t have access to if someone hadn’t built pumping stations where the water passes through their domain.

          • Rufus Throckmorton

            Oh, I’m sorry, did I offend you. I know, those fishy’s are much more important than us humans. Tell you what, since this is what you really want to do, why don’t you go destroy all those existing pumping stations and then you can let all those little fishy’s be free, free, free.

          • Mike Hugh-jass

            **please** Rufus. Go read a book.

    • InTheCrease

      WHY DAMS DON’T WORK

      Expensive
      Dams
      today are the most expensive option for water, costing billions of
      dollars each to build and maintain. Taxpayers could end up paying a bill
      that’s almost 50 times — yes, 50 times! — the cost of smarter
      solutions.
      Destructive
      California
      already has lost 90% of our river environment. We have lost 95% of our
      salmon and steelhead habitat. Our commercial fisheries and the
      communities they once supported are barely hanging on as it is.
      Ineffective
      California
      already has 1400 dams on our rivers. As a practical matter, there is
      very little water to collect behind new dams anymore. According to the
      state, dams are even less reliable than cloud seeding!

      WHY COMMON SENSE DOES WORK

      Saving water = cost effective.
      Conservation
      really does work. California has cut its per capita water use by 50%
      over the past 40 years, even as the state has boomed. Simply using the
      tools we already have like new appliances and drip irrigation we can
      easily cut our water use another 20% and still support a growing
      population and even bigger economy.
      Recycling water = efficient.
      Why
      spray clean, clear drinking water on our golf courses and median
      strips? We can use the rainwater than runs into our storm drains and
      recycle our wastewater. Through reclamation and recycling we can save
      enough drinking water each year for 1.5 million households roughly all
      of Los Angeles.
      Storing water = smart.
      Every
      year enough water for almost 3 million households one-quarter of all
      the households in California disappears into thin air behind our
      existing dams. It’s much smarter to store our water underground, by
      allowing it to seep into the water table. In fact, we already store
      enough water underground to fill Hetch Hetchy 15 times over and there’s
      room for much, much more.

      • Rufus Throckmorton

        Take your “lost 90% of our river environment” and stick it in a dam. You are indeed an environmental wacko. Your numbers are pie in the sky and I AM an steelhead and salmon fisherman – there are PLENTY of fish (if Fish and Game would leave us alone).

        Tell you what – you’re worried about “Expensive” …….. just take the Trillion dollars from Brownie’s “train to nowhere and see how many dams that will build.

        “According to the state” ….. un-huh …… well, we all know how accurate they are. Just look at Obamacare, among other things.

        You are so far out in LEFT field, I can’t see you – thankfully.

        • InTheCrease

          Don’t know what trains and affordable health care have to do with dams, but for sure you should refrain from commenting on blogs because you really come off sounding ignorant and stupid… Also, it would behoove you to do a little research on dams, cloud seeding, etc. before you go online and start pooping out of your wacko right-wing conservative pie hole 🙂

          Any chance you chew tobacco and drive a gas-guzzling, American-built pick up truck?

          • Rufus Throckmorton

            at least my head isn’t up my right-wing conservative pie hole

          • Rufus Throckmorton

            Oh, and no, I don’t chew tobacco, but am a proud owner of a long lasting ford suv. DRILL BABY DRILL. Thank you by the way, I was trying to sound ignorant and stupid – didn’t want you to feel out of place!

        • inyoownway

          You are incoherent Ruf. Focus.

          • Rufus Throckmorton

            what, am I, no is he, well i don’t know maybe you should but then who knows a whole

        • Chris

          That’s a persuasive argument. I liked the anecdotal bit where the fish you see as a fisherman are an indication of statewide fish populations.

          • Rufus Throckmorton

            I have counted every fish in every stream and lake in every square inch of kalifornia and I am happy to say there are enough for everyone for many years to come. Of course you vegan / environmental wack-jobs don’t have to worry since there are plenty of weeds in kalifornia for you to eat.

    • Candid One

      Dams in California need to be sited where they aren’t endangered by seismic hazards. Since California is the most seismically active region in the nation, siting of dams is not much easier than siting more nuclear power plants.

      BTW, nominally, in 2013, Cal Ag was worth $44 Billion to the state. In 2013, California’s GDP was $2.2 Trillion. If Cal Ag uses about 80% of the state’s water resources but only accounts for 2% of the state’s revenues, Cal Ag’s water hog role is unsustainable. No matter how it’s rationalized, 80% overhead for 2% return has had its day…it cannot continue.

  • Stuck_in_Ca

    Hey, don’t fret. Pretty soon we’ll have a trillion dollar high speed train that covers almost 300 miles from the Bay Area to the Central Valley. Who needs water when you can travel 300 miles in 3 hours?

  • Rufus Throckmorton

    Dams, dams, dams, dams, and more dams. Turn the whole san joaquin valley into one big dam with the environmental wackos at the bottom, covering up brownie and his cohorts. Dam it.

    • Candid One

      Building dams in the most seismically active region in the country is nearly as tough as building nuclear power plants. Dam failure is a serious issue; when odds of dam failure are enhanced by earthquake faults, siting of dams becoming very complicated.

      California has hundreds of dams of various sizes and vintages. But it’s had only few dam failures over its history. Nevertheless, how many failures does are required to raise concern?

      In the 6.6 1971 San Fernando Earthquake, the Upper and Lower Van Norman Dams which are part of the LA Aqueduct system, were damaged. The lower dam’s inner face failed slumped to within 5 feet of overtopping. Nearly 100,000 people were living downstream, in the path of a potential surging flood.

      That’s the issue that helped to stop the last big dam project, Auburn Dam, in the late Seventies. The siting options for additional dams are geologically and politically limited…barely better than building another nuclear power plant.

  • Sheila

    We need to let new fashioned loggers cut 25-50% of the trees so the persipitation could reach the ground so it could go into the underground aquifers. That would also react much need “clear” land for mother nature’s habitats.

    • Candid One

      You’re weak on concept. Vegetation inhibits runoff, slows it down, enough to optimize soil infiltration. Trees have root systems that are the primary water intake for the trees. The root systems enhance soil permeability and increase groundwater infiltration. Trees tend to have deeper root systems than small vegetation and have a positive role in slope stabilization. That vegetation is natural habitat, a natural ecosystem.

  • Micheal Griffen

    I believe that California county planning commissions need to stop handing out so many building permits to contractors who build subdivisions without any plans for how these new dwellings can be supplied with water. If the solution is that dams will be built, then the users should pay for this.

    I am on an old well that has been on my rural property for over a century. I am responsible for paying to maintain it. On top of that i have had also had to pay, thru county assessed taxes, to build new resevoirs for the city dwellers. In the unincorporated areas of our county we have to prove there is water on the lot before we can even get a building permit. I think the same should apply to all the subdivisions, and city dwellers, who use water rather than shifting the burden to all the tax payers.

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