The statewide Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) today presented sweeping recommendations for improving groundwater management at a workshop convened by four state agencies.
Therecommendations,developed by a statewide task force formed by ACWA and released last week, come as the Brown Administration considers potential legislative solutions and other measures to address potentially unsustainable groundwater level declines, local subsidence and degraded water quality in some basins of the state. The workshop was held by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research.
ACWA’s recommendations outline legislative and administrative changes that would strengthen groundwater management and accountability where it is deficient, provide new tools and authorities to restrict pumping or take other measures where appropriate, and define a “backstop” role for the state in cases where a local or regional agency is unable to protect and manage a basin.
“The vast majority of the state’s groundwater basins are under sound local and regional management, but some are not,” ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn said at the workshop. “There is a clear need to raise the bar, and we believe the best way to do that is to provide tools and authorities for local agencies to do what they need to do. We also need to build on the many successes in well-managed basins around the state by taking the knowledge and management tools that are working there and duplicating them in basins that need improvement.
“In addition, it’s time to define a mechanism for closer collaboration with state agencies to get the job done where current efforts are lacking.”
Quinn said the water community has been working for some time to advance solutions, but past efforts often met resistance due to the intensely local nature and complexity of groundwater. Today, however, the conversation is changing, and there is greater acknowledgement that something must be done.
“We are seeing a marked shift,” Quinn said. “As the water community, we wanted to put some workable solutions on the table.”
The recommendations, approved by the ACWA Board of Directors on March 28, were developed by a special task force established by the Board in November. They call for the following:
• New uniform requirements for groundwater management planning and performance reporting;
• A clear definition of “sustainable groundwater management” in state law;
• A menu of best management practices for implementing groundwater management plans;
• New tools and authorities for groundwater management agencies to restrict pumping where appropriate;
• New state administrative measures to ensure local groundwater management accountability;
• A funding approach, including local fees on groundwater pumping, to support local capacity building and implementation;
• Comprehensive state action to restore the reliability of our statewide surface water supply system;
• Backup regulations by the state, if local water managers are unable or unwilling to get the job done.
Dave Orth, general manager of Kings River Conservation District and vice chair of the ACWA task force, said the suggested actions reflect the water community’s desire to be part of a constructive dialog on groundwater.
“Since the best opportunity to achieve sustainable groundwater management is at the local level, we want to lead this conversation,” Orth said. “It’s our vision to build on the successes that are out there and accelerate progress in areas that are not there yet.”
ACWA is a statewide association of public agencies whose 430 members are responsible for about 90% of the water delivered in California. For more information, visit www.acwa.com.