Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What does “sustainable” mean?
A. Simply put, sustainable groundwater management means managing our precious water for future generations, while balancing the more immediate needs of our economy, environment and essential human health and safety. It means prudently storing water in wet years so that it is available during dry years.
Q. Many areas already manage their groundwater sustainably. Are you going to propose new mandates on them?
A. One of the legislation’s core principles is that groundwater should be managed at the local and regional level. There are many examples where local management has proven successful and state involvement is not needed. As long as local or regional agencies are sustainably managing their groundwater, state involvement is unnecessary.
Q. Why doesn’t the legislation focus only on overdrafted basins?
A. The legislation prioritizes attention on overdrafted basins. But it would be a mistake to ignore other basins with serious problems because of the risk that they, too, will become overdrafted.
The legislation gives local agencies five years to adopt sustainability plans for overdrafted groundwater basins, after which the state could intervene. Other basins with serious problems that are not yet in overdraft are allowed an additional two years to adopt sustainability plans and five years before the state could intervene.
Q. How does the groundwater legislation relate to the drought?
A. Sustainable groundwater management is an issue that goes beyond the current drought. Improved groundwater management will enable us to recharge our groundwater basins in future wet years. It will make communities more resilient to climate change and future droughts.
The current drought has highlighted the importance and vulnerability to overuse of groundwater. The drought’s impact would be far worse if not for the ability of farmers, homeowners, and communities to pump groundwater. But the increased demand for groundwater is expected to make overdraft worse in some areas. The problem is not new, and overdraft has been occurring in some basins for decades. The goal of the legislation is to preserve the ability to use groundwater into future droughts. That will be increasingly important in a future where climate change is expected to diminish the state’s snowpack, which currently provides roughly one-third of the water Californians use each year.
Q. How is limited state intervention consistent with local control?
A. First and foremost, groundwater should be managed at the local and regional level. This legislation ensures that local and regional agencies have the tools they need to sustainably manage their groundwater resources. Each area is different geologically, hydrologically and culturally. Locally derived solutions are often the most successful because they can best account for local conditions and needs. Some local areas have found it difficult to solve groundwater problems for a variety of reasons.
Where local and regional agencies have been unable or unwilling to manage their groundwater sustainably, the state will step in to protect groundwater resources for future generations. In all cases, the goal will be to develop long-term, sustainable groundwater management at the local or regional level – not from Sacramento.
Q. How does this legislation affect the management of surface water?
A. Surface and groundwater are frequently interconnected and should be managed in concert with each other. The legislation focuses on management of groundwater, not surface water. But it does require local agencies to ensure that groundwater pumping doesn’t harm surface water flows. Excessive groundwater pumping can reduce surface flows, which in turn may harm those who hold surface water rights.
In places where local agencies manage groundwater sustainably, they generally have developed a broad range of strategies, including conservation, replenishment projects, stormwater capture and recycling. Groundwater management plans and programs for specific areas will need to be integrated with surface water management within regions, depending on the overall make-up of local water supplies.
Q. Does the legislation protect responsible local agencies in a basin that requires intervention?
A. Yes. If there are multiple local agencies in a basin, and some act responsibly to meet the state’s standards, and others do not, the legislation requires the state to exempt the good stewards and focus on problem areas if it is forced to intervene.
Q. Why aren’t you talking about new reservoirs as the solution to groundwater overdraft?
A. Expanding water storage capacity, both on the surface and underground, is one of the key elements identified in the California Water Action Plan. With groundwater, however, there are no easy fixes. In addition to more surface storage, we need to consider a broad range of management options, including recharging groundwater with surface water, conservation, increased use of recycled water, capturing and re-using stormwater and better integration among regional projects. Local agencies that manage groundwater successfully typically use a variety of these tools. In areas where groundwater overdraft and water quality concerns have been mounting for decades, local agencies can probably only resolve them though a diverse set of solutions.