Two versions of a plan to manage California’s groundwater supplies were approved by a pair of committees that deal with natural resources.
Authored by Sen. Fran Pavley and Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, the slightly different bills create local entities to regulate the pumping in many of the over 500 groundwater basins in the state.
The need for a comprehensive management plan was supported by the California Water Foundation.
“For decades, we used more groundwater than we replenished, so we’re deficit spending our water supply,” CWF Executive Director Lester Snow said.
Snow said groundwater in certain areas is managed in a vacuum with water pumpers often going taking legal action to resolve disputes.
A wide variety of environmental groups and governmental agencies support a framework that would eventually rebuild the groundwater supply and halt the shrinking water table and sinking of land. In addition, resources could be spread, especially during a drought.
“Everybody in a basin gets to share the water that’s available,” Snow said.
But a long list of farm groups aren’t on board. They fear over-regulation and being stuck with the bill for that regulation. In addition, many feel their private property rights are being taken away if they’re told how and when to pump water on their own land.
California Farm Bureau executive director and fourth-generation grower Danny Merkley said growers are already being cut off from mismanaged surface water supplies.
“We go to our savings account, which is our groundwater and without that, we’re done-dot-com. We’re out of business,” said Merkley.
But even growers realize something has to be done to preserve groundwater supplies.
Dickinson says there’s an old adage that you don’t let a good crisis go to waste. He said the drought is impetus to install a plan that’s been discussed for years.
“We don’t have the luxury here of just simply saying do nothing, that the status quo is acceptable,” said Dickinson.
He said a management plan is a classic case of private rights versus the common good.
“While our individual rights are important, if you have water beneath your land but your neighbor sinks a well and sucks the water from underneath your land, you don’t have it anymore,” said Dickinson.
Lawmakers say they will work out detailed language with input from stakeholders in the next five weeks.