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The Future of Groundwater in California: Lessons in Sustainable Management from Across the West

Christina Babbitt, Kate Gibson, Scott Sellers, Nicholas Brozovi?, Anthony Saracino, Ann Hayden, Maurice Hall, Sandra Zellmer, | January 31, 2018
Summary

The 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) created, for the first time and on an unprecedented scale, a mandate to change how groundwater is managed statewide in California. While enacting SGMA was a tremendous step forward, communities and water districts now face the considerable challenge of creating successful groundwater management programs. This report is aimed at helping California’s water managers, public water agencies, county commissioners, city planners, and others better understand the suite of tools and approaches that can be used to enhance the sustainable management of groundwater. Specifically, we consider four categories of management tools—regulatory, incentive-based, agency supply augmentation and protection, and education and outreach—to evaluate how these tools are being used to address water quantity, water quality, and surface water and groundwater interaction challenges. We present nine comprehensive case studies of groundwater management across the Western United States to highlight how these tools have been used to address those challenges. The case studies represent basins that have a range of water uses— agricultural, municipal, or mixed water use, as well as basins with diverse hydrologic, political and social settings.

Effective groundwater management takes time and requires significant resources and commitment on the part of water managers and communities. Each groundwater management program presented in this report relies upon a variety of interdependent tools and actions to meet management goals. The case studies illustrate the importance of building trust, having sufficient data, using a portfolio of management approaches, assuring performance, and access to funding. Given the similarities between the goals of SGMA and those described in the case studies, these themes emerge as crucial to the successful implementation of California’s landmark groundwater legislation.

 

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The 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) created, for the first time and on an unprecedented scale, a mandate to change how groundwater is managed statewide in California. While enacting SGMA was a tremendous step forward, communities and water districts now face the considerable challenge of creating successful groundwater management programs. This report is aimed at helping California’s water managers, public water agencies, county commissioners, city planners, and others better understand the suite of tools and approaches that can be used to enhance the sustainable management of groundwater. Specifically, we consider four categories of management tools—regulatory, incentive-based, agency supply augmentation and protection, and education and outreach—to evaluate how these tools are being used to address water quantity, water quality, and surface water and groundwater interaction challenges. We present nine comprehensive case studies of groundwater management across the Western United States to highlight how these tools have been used to address those challenges. The case studies represent basins that have a range of water uses— agricultural, municipal, or mixed water use, as well as basins with diverse hydrologic, political and social settings.

Effective groundwater management takes time and requires significant resources and commitment on the part of water managers and communities. Each groundwater management program presented in this report relies upon a variety of interdependent tools and actions to meet management goals. The case studies illustrate the importance of building trust, having sufficient data, using a portfolio of management approaches, assuring performance, and access to funding. Given the similarities between the goals of SGMA and those described in the case studies, these themes emerge as crucial to the successful implementation of California’s landmark groundwater legislation.

 

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Keywords:

Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska, Deschutes River Basin, Edwards Aquifer Authority, Environmental Defense Fund, Groundwater Exchange, Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, Kings Basin, Orange County Water District, Phoenix Active Management Area, Rio Grande Water Conservation Districts-Subdistrict 1, Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), Upper Republican Natural Resource District, Verde River Exchange