California’s Landmark Groundwater Law Falls Short, Advocates Say


In the midst of the last drought, California took its first step to regulate how the state uses groundwater. But advocates worry the new rules have favored big agricultural users over small communities, particularly in areas like the San Joaquin Valley.

That legislation, officially called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, created a new framework to figure out how to better balance the amount of groundwater that residents, cities, and private industry across California use.  The 2014 law created dozens of agencies across California to plan for and provide oversight of that use. The areas facing the most acute threat to their groundwater supply had to submit detailed plans for management by January 31, 2020.

Recent studies show those initial plans, especially in the San Joaquin Valley, could be anything but balanced. Advocates and researchers warn that the way many local agencies have interpreted that law overlooks the needs of disadvantaged communities who rely on groundwater for their drinking water. Many are concerned that households and communities could see their wells go dry in the coming years, leaving them without access to safe and affordable drinking water.

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