Proposed groundwater regulations could have dramatic effect on California farmers and land owners

As California continues to endure the third driest year on record, policy-makers in Sacramento have introduced legislation that would require local governments to create agencies that would regulate the use and pumping of groundwater.  California is the only Western state that does not currently have statewide groundwater regulations in force, although Sacramento does have an existing regulatory body, the Sacramento Groundwater Authority, which functions to control groundwater within the county.

Surface water typically meets 70% of the state’s needs for drinking water and farm irrigation, but in years of decreased rainfall or drought, such as this one, that percentage can drop as low as 40%.  The severe drought conditions this year have necessitated the use of groundwater to make up the difference.  Unfortunately, groundwater is depletable – and going fast.

If the proposed legislation passes, newly-formed local agencies could put restrictions on the amount of water that can be drawn from the ground and for what purpose in an effort to restore and control the amount of groundwater we are able to maintain for future dry years.  Opponents of the legislation argue that such regulations would put an undue burden on farmers, many of whom rely on groundwater to sustain their businesses and livelihoods in both wet and dry years.  Moreover, groundwater in California has traditionally been viewed as a property right. If it’s under your property, it belongs to you and contributes to the value of your land.  For many farmers and large property owners, regulation on groundwater could supply a critical hit to property values throughout the state.

While opponents of the legislation argue that its effects could be disastrous to the state’s economy, it is also true that our groundwater supply is dwindling and must be maintained somehow for the future health of the state.  Before the groundwater-regulation bills advance to a vote at the end of August, many opponents hope to hear proposals for a more balanced solution, entailing groundwater regulation with local oversight boards as well as plans for more above-ground water storage.

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