Governor's Office of Planning & Research Seeks Input to Improve California's Groundwater Management

by Best Best & Krieger LLP
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BB&K to Provide Input to the State on Groundwater Management

The Office of Planning & Research (OPR) is seeking stakeholder input on actions to improve groundwater management in California, consistent with the Governor’s January 27 California Water Action Plan. The Plan calls for legislation to provide local and regional agencies with comprehensive authority for groundwater management. It also proposes allowing the state to temporarily assume groundwater management responsibility if local agencies fail to achieve sustainable management. BB&K attorneys attended the first of two OPR sustainable groundwater management workshops last month, and will attend the second workshop on April 16. All written comments are due to OPR by April 25.

The state currently has no comprehensive authority for monitoring or regulating groundwater. Generally, control over groundwater has been left to local efforts or the courts. A major Plan objective is to establish a legal framework to expand groundwater storage capacity and improve groundwater management. In connection with that objective, OPR seeks answers to the following questions:

  • What new or modified statutory authorities do local and regional agencies need to manage groundwater more effectively?
  • What would help local agencies overcome financial barriers for conservation projects and programs?
  • What types of governance structures are most effective for managing groundwater locally, and should these models be encouraged?
  • What role should groundwater management plans (GWMPs) play, and does their content need to change?
  • What specific data and information do local managers need to succeed? What should be done to help them obtain the data?
  • What can be done to help local and regional agencies manage a basin or sub-basin that spans multiple jurisdictions?
  • Are there improvements to the groundwater adjudication process that would make it more useful and cost-effective for local authorities?
  • What incentives could be given to local and regional agencies to improve groundwater management?
  • Should a formal process be in place that connects local groundwater management planning, land use decisions, county general plans, or integrated regional water management plans? If so, what kind of formal process?
  • What metrics can be used to reflect sustainable management?
  • What criteria or conditions should be present in determining whether a local groundwater management authority is unable to effectively manage the resource?
  • What aspects of local groundwater management should be assumed by the State Water Resources Control Board?

On March 24, BB&K attended the first of two OPR sustainable groundwater management workshops facilitated by the California Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the California Natural Resources Agency to discuss the questions above. The workshop solicited ideas and approaches to groundwater management, and provided a broad based discussion regarding (1) the definition of sustainable groundwater management and measures of success, (2) tools, authorities, and incentives to help local agencies manage groundwater, (3) key funding mechanisms, barriers, and solutions, and (4) the state’s role in assisting local agencies with groundwater management. Some stakeholders are arguing for fundamental changes in groundwater law that may impose new requirements on both landowners and local agencies.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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