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Economic tradeoff between domestic well impact and reduced agricultural production with groundwater drought management: Tulare County, California (USA), case study

Kathleen Stone, Robert M. Gailey, Jay R. Lund | November 8th, 2021

Formal policy analysis can aid resource management where groundwater is used intensively. Approaches for developing equitable and effective pumping allocations for drought are evaluated in the context of the 2012–2016 drought in Tulare County, California, USA. Potential economic impacts of policy alternatives on two user groups with conflicting interests are considered. Tradeoffs between losses of agricultural profit and response costs for domestic wells that run dry are estimated for various maximum groundwater depth policies. A welfare maximizing approach for identifying policies that limit depth to groundwater is evaluated and found to be ineffective because agricultural opportunity costs are much larger than domestic well costs. Adding a fee for additional drought groundwater pumping is proposed as a more impactful and balanced management policy approach. For the case study presented, a fee range of $300 to $600/acre-foot ($300–$600/1,233 m3) yielded an effective groundwater management policy for reducing domestic well impacts from drought and balancing agricultural impacts of drought with the need to replenish additional drought pumping in wetter years. Recent management policies enacted in the study area agree with this finding. These results may provide a useful perspective for analytically examining and developing groundwater management policies near the study area and elsewhere.


agriculture, Central Valley, drinking water, drought, Groundwater Exchange, groundwater pumping impacts

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