The common assumption that you can pump all the water you want
from beneath your property ignores hydrologic reality and has
allowed a legal theft of groundwater from many neighbors. To
understand why that’s true, and how this came about, you have
to know a little about how water acts underground and how it
gets to the surface.
Thirteen percent of Americans, some 42 million people, use a
household well for their water supply. The largest clusters of
people who use wells are not where you might expect. There are
frequent reports of dry wells in the American West, but despite
its ranch-and-frontier image, the region is the most urban in
Like so many rivers, the Colorado is closely linked to
groundwater. A US Geological Survey study found that more than
half of the streamflow in the upper Colorado Basin originates
as groundwater. We talked to Doug Kenney—director of the
Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado and
a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center research network―about
managing groundwater in the basin.
The Paso Robles Groundwater Basin is critically
over-drafted and county leaders continue to work on a
plan to fix that. So far, water experts and district
leaders have drafted 5 out of 13 chapters of the
state-mandated Groundwater Sustainability Plan. They need to
submit the full plan to the state by Jan. 31, 2020.
Concerns are rising Kern might lose local control over
groundwater pumping — an activity vital to farmers, ranchers,
oil producers and others — after county officials
moved to scale back their own oversight role. The county
informed property owners Aug. 24 it does not have the expertise
or the money to actively manage groundwater use in portions of
Kern where no other management authority exists.
Stanislaus County will ask the state Supreme Court for a ruling
on whether environmental review is a necessary step for a new
water well. In August, a state appeals court overturned the
Stanislaus Superior Court’s decision in the Protecting Our
Water lawsuit, which sought an injunction against county well
In a ceremony in the City of Industry with the San Gabriel
Basin Water Quality Authority, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) today [Sept. 20] announced the start of
construction of a groundwater treatment system in Puente Valley
as part of ongoing cleanup at the San Gabriel Valley Superfund
Site. The new $40 million treatment system, expected to be
completed by 2020, will capture and remove volatile organic
compounds (VOCs), 1,4 dioxane, perchlorate, and hexavalent
chromium from groundwater.
Local agencies in critically overdrafted groundwater basins in
California have less than a year and a half draft their plans
to achieve sustainable groundwater management. These
Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), formed under
California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
(SGMA), will need to avoid six specified “undesirable results”
ranging from seawater intrusion and degraded water quality to
land subsidence. A new report by Water in the West visiting
scholar Letty Belin guides these agencies through how to
understand and comply with the requirement that GSAs must not
cause “significant and unreasonable adverse impacts on
beneficial uses of surface water.”
As California begins handing out $2.5 billion in state funds
for several new water management projects, a shift is taking
place in the ways officials are considering storing water. To
contend with the likelihood of future extreme droughts, some of
these new strategies rely on underground aquifers — an approach
far removed from traditional dam-based water storage.
In increasingly dry conditions, cities from Australia and the
Middle East to the American Southwest are pursuing groundwater,
either as an integral piece of their future water supply or as
an emergency stopgap measure. Los Angeles, looking long-term,
aims to double the share of its water supply that comes from
groundwater by 2040 and cut reliance on distant and shrinking
sources like the Colorado River.
The appeals are piling up over a recent state decision blocking
the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plans to pipe groundwater
from Eastern Nevada. Four days after water authority board
members approved a court challenge of State Engineer Jason
King’s Aug. 17 ruling, opponents of the controversial pipeline
project launched an appeal of their own targeting a specific
part of last month’s decision.
Monsoon storms in the desert Southwest are vital for recharging
groundwater – but it now appears likely this recharge effect
may be compromised by climate change. The major cities of the
Southwest – Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Las Vegas – currently
get most of their freshwater from the Colorado River or its
tributaries. That river, however, is experiencing its 19th
straight drought year, suggesting a new permanent dry state is
gripping the giant watershed.
To help Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) move forward
with drafting and implementing their sustainability plans under
California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA),
Maven’s Notebook, in partnership with Stanford’s Program on
Water in the West (WitW) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF),
launched a new website, The Groundwater Exchange, to provide a
central hub of science-based information related to SGMA.
The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft environmental
document for public review on the Big Valley Band of Pomo
Indians of Big Valley Rancheria project to construct a backup
drinking well on tribal property. The Big Valley Rancheria
water treatment system requires an additional well when the
existing well is shut down for repairs and routine maintenance.
Two of the agencies that will manage the water beneath Butte
County began to take shape this week, one with some
controversy. Groundwater sustainability agencies are required
under the September 2014 law regulating the state’s aquifers,
the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
California farmers are laboring under a daunting edict: They
must stop over-pumping groundwater from beneath their ranches.
The saving grace is that state law gives them more than 20
years to do it. Now, however, a landmark court ruling could
force many farmers to curb their groundwater consumption much
sooner than that, landing like a bombshell in the contentious
world of California water.
It looks like the Southern Nevada Water Authority won’t be
taking no for an answer. The authority board will hold a rare
special meeting Thursday to launch an appeal of the most recent
state ruling against the agency’s plans to pipe groundwater to
Las Vegas from across eastern Nevada.
On August 29, 2018, the Third Appellate District published its
long-awaited opinion in Environmental Law Foundation v. State
Water Resources Control Board (“ELF”), a case involving a
challenge to Siskiyou County’s (“County”) issuance of well
permits in the vicinity of the Scott River, a navigable
The structure of the agencies being established to manage the
groundwater beneath Butte County is made clear by two items
before the Butte County Board of Supervisors Tuesday. The board
is being asked to approve agreements to set up the Vina
Groundwater Sustainability Agency and the Wyandotte Creek
Groundwater Sustainability Agency.