A Brief History Of California’s “Groundbreaking” New Groundwater Law

For a long time, California remained a stubborn outlier among western states in its refusal to regulate groundwater — the water that sits below the surface that farmers and others drill down to extract in times of scarcity.  But the recent dought — and the record groundwater depletion that occurred — finally prompted state action in 2014 to begin regulation.

The resulting Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is weak but a necessary first step that can be strengthened over time.  From her perch working in the Legislature at the time, Tina Cannon Leahy just published a fascinating account in the Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal of how the law came to be.  You can access it here [PDF].

For smart growth advocates like myself, it will be interesting to see how the law may help constrain sprawl.  At this point, the provisions are vague, but new groundwater management agencies potentially will have the ability to hold groundwater abusers like some big sprawl projects to account.  And that can only benefit infill, where per capita water usage is much less than in sprawl development.


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