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Brown’s budget includes plan to regulate groundwater

Tim Hearden
Gov. Jerry Brown's nearly $107 billion spending proposal includes $7.8 million for regulating groundwater use and could lead to restrictions in pumping from wells, officials say. The groundwater measures are part of a statewide Water Action Plan proposed in the fall.

SACRAMENTO — The nearly $107 billion spending plan proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Jan. 9 includes $7.8 million for groundwater management and could lead to restrictions on pumping from wells, officials say.

The governor’s budget offers $618.7 million overall to support the Water Action Plan, a 10-point effort over the next five years proposed by California Department of Food and Agriculture secretary Karen Ross and other agency leaders as a way to make do with limited water resources.

The plan includes 10 employees of the State Water Resources Control Board who would “act as a backstop when local or regional agencies are unable or unwilling to sustainably manage groundwater basins,” the governor’s budget summary explains.

In addition, 12 workers for the Department of Water Resources would continue a groundwater monitoring program and develop an online system for submitting reports that must be filed when a driller works on a well, according to the summary.

The state has constitutional authority to prevent wasteful practices and could determine that “abuse of a groundwater basin” warrants an order to curtail pumping, said Tom Howard, the state water board’s executive director.

“Our real concern is that there may be permanent damage going on in some groundwater basins right now,” state Secretary for Environmental Protection Matt Rodriguez told the Capital Press during a conference call with reporters. “Where we’re seeing permanent damage … state action may be warranted.”

Rodriguez cautioned that a variety of groundwater basins exist in the state and their conditions vary, and “we’re really looking at working with local governments and regional governments” to prevent overdrafts.

But the state’s pledge to crack down on excessive pumping from wells serves as a warning to farmers who depend on groundwater as a buffer against state and federal surface water cutbacks in drought years.

The budget proposal comes as Brown has asked Ross and other cabinet members to form a task force to handle preparedness for what officials say is the worst drought in California in nearly four decades. The panel’s work could lead to a formal statewide drought declaration.

In October, Ross, Rodriguez and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird proposed the Water Action Plan, whose long-term measures would include water recycling for potable reuse, promoting conservation and adding water storage capacity, according to a news release.

A portion of that new storage would be achieved by regenerating groundwater basins, upon which 80 percent of Californians at least partly rely for their drinking water, according to Brown’s summary. In some areas, groundwater overdraft is causing subsidence, permanent reductions in underground storage capacity, seawater intrusion and other problems, the summary asserts.

The state’s attention to groundwater basins pleases environmentalists, including Sierra Club California director Kathryn Phillips.

“Groundwater is something that we haven’t monitored very well in this state and we haven’t regulated very well and this is a case where more regulation is needed,” she told Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio.

Online

Governor’s Budget Summary 2014-2015: http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/FullBudgetSummary.pdf

California Water Action Plan: http://resources.ca.gov/docs/Final_Water_Action_Plan.pdf



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