More groundwater.

The title gave me great hope, but this post about saving our precious groundwater didn’t go anywhere useful.

Any regulation works best when those being regulated agree with the premises and objectives of the regulation. If most of the population thinks that the regulation is unnecessary because, for example, they are doing fine and their wells still produce lots of clean water, the regulation is doomed to ineffectiveness and may generate more government resentment than anything.

A key hurdle in making SGMA effective, then, will be giving the water users greater motivation by making transparent the ultimate consequences of ignoring the laws of groundwater nature.

His conclusion is to explain long-term self-interest to people overdrafting groundwater? They already know. They don’t fucking care. If things don’t get better, either the neighbor’s pump or buying scarce water will send them out of business long before deep aquifer salinization is a problem. They are hoping that the drought will end and they’ll get surface water within a year. Either way, they plant. If the drought continues, the bank might as well foreclose on a newly planted orchard as on idled land. If the drought ends, that newly planted orchard will be valuable.

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The PPIC writes that farmers themselves need sustainable groundwater management.

Despite the seemingly generous timeline for compliance, the law’s goals will be challenging to meet. By June 2017, groundwater users in each basin need to designate a local groundwater sustainability agency that will be responsible for local oversight. And by January 2020, these agencies need to start implementing their sustainability plans. In most places, getting this preparatory work done will require significant additional technical analysis to understand how the basins’ supply and demand work. It will also require coming to agreement on how to collectively manage what has largely been considered an individual resource, with each user able to pump as much as he or she can put to beneficial use.

I don’t think they can do it. It is a truism that the reconciliation of overlying acreage and sustainable groundwater yield should be determined by the locals themselves, but Lois Henry gives us a good look at how that is playing out.

I had thought Kern was ahead of the curve, having created the Kern Groundwater Authority back in 2012, two years before the state legislation was passed.

But things have stagnated.

Debates over how to account for water use and recharge continue to go round and round. Members of the Authority still haven’t even agreed on the structure of the Authority. Nor the level of authority of the Authority.

These people know they are going to be allocating substantial real losses and they have spent two years positioning themselves. They’re arguing the size of the losses; they’re debating the structure so it is most favorable to themselves; they’re minimizing the authority so it can be bucked when the hurting starts. They can’t do it, because doing it is going to fucking suck. The board member that suggests a mediator is exactly right, and of course it shouldn’t be a mediator from his own firm. But a mediator is their best hope. When all is said and done, they may wish in retrospect that the big bad legislature had done this hard work for them. At least an outsider would be to blame.

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The Legislature should put more weight on the pro-management side of the balance. The PPIC writes:

The groundwater law was not widely embraced by the farm community; indeed, not a single legislator from the San Joaquin Valley voted in favor of it. Yet California farming needs to strengthen groundwater management to support the growing investments in highly valuable fruit and nut orchards and vineyards, which must be watered each year.

Look, drying up the wells of poor towns hasn’t been convincing. Subsidence that is breaking canals and making canals run backward hasn’t been convincing. Farmers’ wells drying up each other’s wells hasn’t been convincing. Solid predictions of future problems hasn’t been convincing. They gotta WANT stable groundwater more than they don’t want to do the allocations.

A moratorium on planting permanent crops in overdrafted basins would be a good push for that. “Sure you can plant your vines, as soon as you show your Regional Board that groundwater levels in your basin are not declining.” (Not even, ‘can handle the demand from your orchard without declining’. For starters, stable groundwater levels would be enough.) The drive for sustainable groundwater management must come from them, not from other people who understand their long term self-interest, and this moratorium would change their incentives substantially.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “More groundwater.

  1. CJB

    The farmers and everyone else needs to be using the same discount rate for groundwater depletion. That means applying a pump tax, which unfortunately means collecting reliable data. CA is doomed without precip.

  2. Thanks for applying a portion of truth to the (ground)water regulation farce. As you say, the game is to wring every last penny out of available water and if it rains, all is good. If not, the only issue is the bottom line.

  3. Joe

    Good blog.