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First Step In Implementing California Groundwater Law Successful

Kelly M. Grow / California Department of Water Resources

Glen Gordon, engineering geologist with the California Department of Water Resources, measures the water depth at specific agricultural wells in Colusa County on March 17, 2016.

Kelly M. Grow / California Department of Water Resources

California was one of the last states in the West to pass a law to manage groundwater. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act into law in 2014.

The first major hurdle under the law was determining who would manage groundwater basins. The law required the formation of local governing agencies, known as “Groundwater Sustainability Agencies” or GSA’s.

Landowners, public agencies, counties or other groundwater users in the basin could form GSA’s. They had until June 30 to complete the process.

That was expected to be a big political battle. Instead, GSA’s have formed for more than 99 percent of the groundwater basins that fall under the law.

“We’re very thrilled with how it’s turned out,” says Erik Ekdahl, director for the Office of Research with the State Water Resources Control Board. He says the next step, when GSA's begin implementing their plans to manage groundwater, will be the most difficult.

Ekdahl says the GSA's will have to determine how much groundwater is being pumped from the basin.

"In some cases, they’re going to have to levy fees upon themselves to pay for the GSA," says Ekdahl. "They may have to consider projects that bring recharge water into the basin or if they can’t do that, [look for] ways to cut back on groundwater extractions in the basin.”

Regulators will begin contacting landowners and prospective groundwater users in the few areas not covered by a GSA. Those users will have to begin reporting pumping information to the state. 

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