In a typical year, California gets about 30 percent of its water from groundwater wells. Yet when it comes to managing this precious resource, the state of California relies on a mixed bag of more than 2,000 local water agencies with varying degrees of authority.
Critics say that this decentralized system leaves the state vulnerable to overdraft, which occurs when water is pumped out faster than replacement water is absorbed. But according to a new report published by Stanford University's Program on Water in the West, a surprising number of local water districts are taking on the challenge of groundwater protection, even without state leadership.
"Contrary to popular expectations, our report uncovers a treasure trove of innovative strategies for groundwater management in California," said the paper's author, Rebecca Nelson, a former Australian water lawyer who is now a graduate student in the Stanford Law School.
"The California legal framework for groundwater management is weak," Nelson said. "It doesn't compel local districts to do anything, so many of them don't. But there are these gems in the rough. This report highlights the work of some of these outstanding managers."
To evaluate how well groundwater is managed in California, Nelson first had to overcome the lack of basic information about groundwater management in the state. Because California lacks a centralized data clearinghouse, she had to contact more than 50 local districts and request copies of their groundwater management plans if they had any. "Maybe on two hands you could count the districts that acknowledge the environmental effects of over-pumping," Nelson said.
This lack of statewide data is a problem not only for researchers but also for local water agencies wishing to learn from each other and develop a comprehensive regional strategy, she said.
Despite California's inherent decentralization, the
|Contact: Mark Shwartz|