Recommendations to Ensure Drinking Water Protections for Communities
The purpose of this white paper is to:
1. Provide an overview of some of the major elements to consider when developing a well-designed groundwater market.
2. Introduce tools to help community stakeholders engage in the market design and implementation process.
3. Hold decision makers accountable in developing groundwater management strategies that are protective of community needs. This white paper prioritizes key recommendations for the protection of drinking water sources where groundwater markets are adopted.
Background on the white paper and recommendations:
Through the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), local groups called Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) are tasked with managing their groundwater basins sustainably and addressing groundwater overdraft — which occurs when more groundwater is pumped out of the aquifer than is replenished either by rain, snow melt, or through recharge basins. In order to do this, GSAs will develop Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs or plans) that specify how they will sustainably manage groundwater in their areas.
Under SGMA, sustainability is defined as avoiding unreasonable impacts of these six undesirable results: chronic lowering of groundwater levels, degraded water quality, depletion of interconnected surface water, reduction of groundwater storage, seawater intrusion, and land subsidence. GSPs will address three major components: 1) description of the plan area and basin setting, 2) defining sustainability criteria, and 3) projects and management actions which will help the GSA achieve the goals indicated under sustainable criteria, including projects, management actions, mitigation measures, and monitoring plans.1 GSPs will be submitted in 2020 and 2022 (depending upon basin prioritization) to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) who will be reviewing and approving or disapproving GSPs.
SGMA is likely to result in significant changes in Introduction - Groundwater Markets and Drinking Water Sources historical pumping patterns through the many management actions and projects that will be implemented over the next 20 and more years. One potential management action and project, and focus of this white paper, is to develop a system to trade groundwater pumping allocations.2 Though the trading or transfer of surface water is a fairly common practice, trading groundwater is a newer endeavor in California that requires the development of thoughtful frameworks and rules to ensure that all groundwater-dependent communities are protected.
In the Southern San Joaquin Valley, over 95 percent of residents depend on groundwater for at least part of their drinking water supply and many communities are entirely reliant on groundwater as their drinking water source. Further, California’s Human Right to Water law states that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes”. While this does not apply directly to GSAs, it does apply to DWR. Therefore, before any management action or project is implemented, including a groundwater market, it is important for GSAs to consider the possible implications and proactively plan to avoid or mitigate impacts to communities dependent on groundwater supplies.
Historically, many low-income rural communities have struggled with access to safe and affordable drinking water and a well-run market can assist, though not solve, in addressing this issue. However, negative impacts are also possible and must be avoided or mitigated. Often those most vulnerable to the negative impacts from groundwater management decisions are those reliant upon shallow wells, including communities reliant upon domestic wells.
These same stakeholders often lack the financial resources to secure additional sources of water through means such as by purchasing additional rights to pump groundwater or surface water supplies to meet basic needs.