California Groundwater Management Gets Spotlight from Stanford Researchers
(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Groundwater is the source of up to 60% of water supply in California. The state suffers from poor groundwater management, which has led to severe drops in groundwater levels, dry wells, gradual sinking of land in some locations, ecosystem die-outs and reduced stream flows. Inefficient data collection by local and state agencies about groundwater use is one of the factors contributing to this situation.
Researchers at Stanford’s Water in the West program and the Gould Center for Conflict Resolution at the Stanford Law School have released a survey of groundwater professionals highlighting the need for standardized data monitoring. The report titled “From the Ground Down: Understanding the Groundwater Data Collection, Adequacy and Sharing Practices of Local Groundwater Management Agencies in California” recommends ways to successfully implement the historic groundwater legislation in the state and overcome systemic obstacles.
Lead author Tara Moran, sustainable groundwater program lead at Water in the West, a joint program of the Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, said that managing groundwater is akin to managing a bank account. It requires understanding what comes into the system and what goes out. This has been impossible on a statewide level in California, and even on the level of groundwater basins.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), passed in 2014, calls for the monitoring of groundwater basins, permeable areas that drain large amounts of water to natural underground storage areas. But the law stops short of requiring local agencies to adopt statewide monitoring protocols. According to the survey report, standardized monitoring would make groundwater information more shareable across regions and the state.
The survey finds that many local agencies do not have dedicated groundwater-monitoring wells and many data necessary for sustainable groundwater management are missing or are highly uncertain. Based on the findings, Moran and her colleagues suggest regulatory and policy changes for local, state and federal groundwater management agencies.
Their suggestions include: use the authority under SGMA to monitor private production wells and to implement groundwater extraction metering; and develop a statewide advisory committee to provide guidance on new data collection technologies and other data-related topics.
Co-author Janet Martinez, director of the Gould Center, said that achieving SGMA’s goal of sustainably managed groundwater basins will require building a shared understanding of groundwater conditions across a diverse range of interested parties. The survey provides critical insights on the data management efforts needed to accomplish this.
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