Community Water Center

Community-driven water solutions through organizing, education, and advocacy

Roundtable on Protecting Drinking Water in Groundwater Markets

 Roundtable on Protecting Drinking Water in Groundwater Markets 

On July 2nd, CWC, Self-Help Enterprises, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Environmental Defense Fund, co-hosted a Roundtable on Protecting Drinking Water in Groundwater Markets in Visalia. For those of you who were unable to join us, below is a quick summary of our event. To access the event agenda, speaker backgrounds and powerpoint presentations visit the links at the bottom of this page. 

Background on groundwater markets: 

Across the state Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) are currently developing plans for how they will manage their groundwater. As one management option, several GSAs are considering developing groundwater markets as a way to reallocate groundwater resources. Markets for surface water (snow melt, rivers, streams, canals, reservoirs, etc) have existed for a long time but through the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) groundwater markets are now also being considered.     

A groundwater market can look many different ways but essentially, the GSA would give groundwater users within their agency an allocation, which is a certain amount of groundwater they can pump. A groundwater user can decide that instead of using their allocation they would like to sell their groundwater pumping credits to a user that needs more than they were allocated. This system can be a way to facilitate the exchange of resources but it also brings up some concerns for communities who depend on groundwater to drink and for those users who may not be able to afford additional groundwater credits. 

During the Roundtable the following were elaborated on as key steps to implement a groundwater market:

1) Understanding baseline conditions

2) Setting equitable & fair allocations

3) Establishing trading rules, incentives, & development of best practices

4) Establishing monitoring protocols and developing a system of triggers

5) Establishing a plan for interim solutions

6) Establishing transparent trading platform

7) Implementing the market. 

Two key recommendations on protecting drinking water in groundwater markets from the co-hosting organizations:

  • Groundwater Sustainability Plan baseline conditions must adequately capture the needs of drinking water users and set appropriate minimum thresholds, measurable objectives, and monitoring protocols.
  • When determining groundwater allocations, GSAs should establish a “set-aside” amount of groundwater for drinking water in order to meet public health and safety goals both now as well as into the future. Remaining groundwater can then be allocated and traded in the market. Each community can decide if they want to be participants in the market and trade their allocation.

Following the presentation on groundwater markets and recommendations, Amanda Monaco from Leadership Counsel hosted a panel on best practices for protecting drinking water in groundwater markets. The two panelists were: 

  • Stephanie Anagnoson is the Director of Water and Natural Resources for Madera County 
  • Nell Green Nylen is a Senior Research Fellow with the Wheeler Water Institute in the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) at Berkeley Law

Following the presentation, Roundtable participants played a few rounds of a groundwater markets game. The game was developed by the Environmental Defense Fund and University of  Michigan and is intended to help players better understand the possible impacts of markets for different users. 

Below you can find the Roundtable agenda, panelist backgrounds, powerpoint presentations, and an overview of the groundwater markets game from the event: 


Photos from the event can be found here.

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