By James Poulos.

Laboring to strengthen his aggressive anti-drought policies, Gov. Jerry Brown vowed that the historic groundwater management rules he pushed into law will be ratcheted up in coming years.

In an interview on Meet the Press, Brown cautioned that he did not “rule by decree,” working “through the Legislature,” but promised to move regulations further ahead than current law provides. “California now has groundwater management for the first time in its entire history, so we are much more aggressive” than in years past, he said. But, citing a new study claiming the state’s drought is connected to climate change, Brown warned “we’re not aggressive enough. And we will be stepping it up year by year.”

The connection alleged by that study has been disputed. “Scientists have attributed the state’s historic drought primarily to natural – not man-made – causes. But they say rising temperatures have worsened its effects, and Brown has used the drought to skewer Republican presidential candidates skeptical of climate change,” the Sacramento Bee noted. Contenders including Carly Fiorina and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have shot back, suggesting that Brown and other environmentalist policymakers failed to prepare adequately for the current drought.

Sinking land

A new list of troubled groundwater basins, released by state officials, has led to a fresh round of concern in and out of the Brown administration. The report showed that 21 groundwater repositories suffered from so-called “critical overdraft” — “a condition in which significantly more water has been taken out of a basin than has been put in,” as the Los Angeles Times noted. “A NASA report also released Wednesday showed that pumping too much groundwater has caused land in some parts of the San Joaquin Valley to subside faster than ever,” the Times reported, adding that the “vast majority” of overdrawn basins tallied by officials were located in “the same places where the land is sinking.”

State environmental regulations have intensified the challenge of retaining groundwater, which has been tapped by residents and farmers absent significant increases in diverted water pumped from the San Joaquin Delta. “Roughly half of California’s water is fulfilling some environmental role and can’t be ‘developed’ for human consumption,” according to Archinect. “That covers water needed to maintain aquatic habitats, in federally or state-protected ‘wild and scenic’ rivers, in wildlife preserves, etc. Of the other half of California’s water, the half intended for human use, 80 percent is used for farming operations, while the remaining 20 percent goes to urban use.”

Disproportionate harm

As the plight of California’s Central Valley residents has grown, political dividing lines familiar to voters and residents have begun to blur. Traditionally the Republican-leaning part of the state, with interests broadly opposed to the wealthy deep-blue elite concentrated on the coast, the poorer Valley has become a growing source of dismay for liberals as well as conservatives upset with Democrat-led water policy. Better-off towns and cities have weathered the Valley’s water cutbacks. “For less wealthy communities, however, the inconveniences quickly turn into catastrophes,” the Nation recently reported.

“In hundreds of poor rural spots — places too small to qualify as towns, too isolated to be incorporated into larger cities, and oftentimes condemned as “nonviable” by their county’s General Plan — the drought has literally meant the end of water. These settlements have long been at the mercy of ramshackle delivery systems, which pump unsafe water laced with arsenic, uranium, nitrates, and pesticides into family homes; now those wells are dry, too. And despite the passage of the state’s largely aspirational Human Right to Water Act in 2012, the large-scale investments needed to link these communities into the water systems of bigger towns, or to dig wells deep enough to allow them to survive off their own water supplies, haven’t materialized.”

Local controls

As legislators faced the prospect of more protracted water negotiations, some localities began taking matters into their own hands. In San Luis Obispo, the Tribune reported, county supervisors recently voted in favor of a parcel tax that would net $1 million for a water management district covering the Paso Robles basin, where aquifer levels have been falling.

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Originally posted at Cal Watchdog.