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California Senate Passes Bill to Cap Groundwater Pumping

The California State Senate has passed a bill that would regulate groundwater pumping prior to implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”).

SB 1317 would require cities and counties overlying high and medium priority basins to issue permits for new wells beginning January 1, 2018. Because new wells cannot “contribute to or create an undesirable result,” it would effectively cap pumping. Permits for new wells would be prohibited in critically overdrafted basins.

The bill was sponsored by Lois Wolk (D–Davis), who argues that it will protect the state’s aquifer by forcing a pause to consider the impact of new wells before they are dug.

“New wells are being dug all over the state at an alarming rate in anticipation of the Sustainable Groundwater and Management Act of 2014, with very little supervision by the counties who control permitting,” Wolk said. “Throughout the state, wells are being dug daily. New straws suck the water out of the ground without any analysis of the impacts on neighboring farmers or the community within the groundwater basin. At the same time, California has seen an increased demand on groundwater supplies for permanent crops. Before putting another straw in a critical or high priority basin, we need to ask if doing so will harm that basin.”

Support for the bill comes largely from the environmental community who argue that some basins are in serious and immediate danger of overdraft, and action is needed before SGMA regulations go into effect. Opposition comes primarily from agricultural and urban water supplier groups, who are concerned that this bill would undermine the local decision-making upon which SGMA rests.

The bill is currently under consideration in the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife and Local Government Committees.


Written by Marta L. Weismann