A Brave New World of Water Regulation

September 29, 2014

San Francisco Daily Journal

Since the state of California was born, the right to extract and use groundwater has been virtually unregulated — the law has provided few tools to limit or manage how agricultural, industrial and residential users compete for this valuable and increasingly scarce resource. But all that is about to change. A record drought, declining groundwater levels, and a lack of groundwater regulation have combined to create an environmental crisis in California — shedding light on an unsustainable groundwater management system that is no longer able to reliably meet human, economic and ecological needs — and spurring a legislative call to action.

On Sept. 16, the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown responded to that call with the passage of a package of bills known as Assembly Bill 1739, Senate Bill 1168 and Senate Bill 1319 that collectively constitute the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, designed to provide a long-term solution to a long-standing problem. But with the bulk of regulatory authority delegated to local water agencies and counties, many water users fear it opens the door to haphazard, inconsistent management and inequity among various parts of the state.

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