By Lester Snow, Executive Director of the California Water Foundation.

California’s groundwater is in a state of crisis. In many parts of the state, groundwater sources are declining rapidly, while in others, over-pumping has allowed saltwater to flow in to underground basins and land to subside. As we deplete our groundwater reserves, future droughts will have even greater impacts.

Groundwater is a critical part of California’s water supply, accounting for about 40 percent of the water used in normal years and up to 60 percent of the water used during droughts. Roughly 75 percent of Californians – as many as 30 million people – rely on groundwater for a portion of their drinking water. It’s crucial for the state’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry and our families.

At the California Water Foundation, we have been studying the problem and recently reviewed 120 groundwater management plans adopted by local water agencies. What we found is groundwater challenges in all parts of the state. While some agencies have done well despite the limitations of the law, most have not.

Californians are also well aware of the dire situation. According to a statewide poll released last week, 78 percent of voters say they want to see policymakers take action now. Nearly the same number said state and local communities should manage groundwater supplies carefully to ensure the groundwater is available when it is needed most.

Some regions manage their groundwater through “adjudication” – a court-imposed management plan imposed following years of costly litigation.  Some argue that the best way to deal with this dire situation around the state is through more lawsuits. That is irresponsible and unnecessary.

Local communities need adequate tools and to prepare and enforce local groundwater plans that avoid the need for lawsuits. There are two pieces of legislation in the state Senate and Assembly that could help. Both Senate Bill 1168 (Pavley) and Assembly Bill 1739 (Dickinson) will provide the framework and needed oversight to advance sustainable management of groundwater basins.

These bills provide localities with better tools to manage their groundwater and sustain their economies and provide a buffer for future droughts. The state must provide greater technical guidance and financial support to localities as needed.

Managed correctly, California’s groundwater will provide a dependable and long-term supply of water for current and future generations.

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