Burst of Water-Management Bills Signed

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – Though nothing will get rolling officially until 2017, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed five bills Tuesday aimed at managing the state’s most precious and rare resource: its water.
     Three of the bills – all written by Democrats – establish the framework for local governments to start managing groundwater for the first time in state history. Groundwater-well permits had been previously handed out with little thought to the impact on underground basins and aquifers, and no real plan for how to manage subsurface water sources.
     But with the unrelenting thirst of 38 million residents, the worst drought in a century and the hopes of a winter rich with El Nino-driven storms evaporating by the day, Brown said the time has come for California to join the other Western states – all of which already manage their groundwater supplies.
     “These bills accomplish a number of goals described in the California Water Action Plan, a five-year plan to sustainably manage our water resources,” Brown said in a signing statement to the Legislature. “When combined with the other elements outlined in the plan – conservation, water recycling, expanded storage, safe drinking water, wetlands and watershed restoration – and the passage of Proposition 1, we can take giant strides to secure California’s water feature.”
     Voters will decide the fate of Prop. 1, a $7.5 billion water-bond proposal that would help fund the first dams and reservoirs in 30 years, in November. Recent field polls show the initiative is likely to pass, although many voters admit to being undecided or unfamiliar with the measure’s finer points.
     The legislative trifecta Brown signed Tuesday tasks local governments with managing their own subsurface water sources, with the state stepping in only when local authorities fail to do so. By 2017, cities and counties are required to have groundwater management agencies in place.
     By 2020, these agencies must have sustainability plans in areas where overdrafting has occurred. This is where wells have pumped the groundwater dry, much like an overzealous consumer spends more money than his bank account holds.
     The bills require that other medium- and high-priority basins have sustainability plans by 2022. All subsurface basins must be fully sustainable by 2040.
     None of the bills address a key question: What happens if the drought persists, and the Golden State does not receive enough rain and Sierra snow to refill the underground water sources?
     Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, one of the bill’s author, said they still represent a start toward a more sustainable approach to water management.
     “Ensuring a sustainable supply of groundwater is a critical element of addressing the water challenges facing California,” Dickinson said. “Overdrafting our groundwater leads to subsidence and contamination, consequences we cannot afford. With these new laws in effect, California will take important steps to ensure we are protecting our valuable water supply for years to come.”

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