News | May 5, 2014

California Water Foundation Releases Groundwater Recommendations Prepared For Brown Administration And State Legislature

CWF-Led Stakeholder Dialogue Demonstrates Mounting Support for Improved Groundwater Management

Sacramento, CA /PRNewswire/ - The California Water Foundation (CWF), a nonpartisan and independent organization dedicated to addressing the state's water needs, today released a report of findings and recommendations to achieve sustainable groundwater management in California. The report is based on an ongoing stakeholder dialogue that was launched earlier this year by CWF at the request of the Brown Administration. CWF brought diverse groups impacted by the state's groundwater issues together to discuss potential groundwater solutions. Participants include water agencies, farmers, local elected officials, agricultural associations, environmental justice representatives, and conservation groups.

"Californians are coming together to advance real solutions to our groundwater crisis. This demonstrates a turning point that makes groundwater policy improvements possible this year to ensure this critical water supply is protected in the future," said Lester Snow, executive director of CWF. "People, farms and the environment all need a more sustainable groundwater supply. This report is a starting point to ignite effective change in the way we view and manage groundwater as part of California's overall water supply portfolio."

The current drought has exacerbated California's water challenges. As a finite yet renewable resource, groundwater plays an essential role providing 40% of California's water supply during an average year and up to 60% during droughts such as this year's. When managed sustainably, groundwater can serve as a water savings account that can be dipped into during dry times. However, withdrawals from California's groundwater savings accounts have led to significant depletion of groundwater supplies, known as overdraft, creating critical problems across the state including less groundwater being available to help address drought, land subsidence, degraded water quality, reduced streamflow, and harm to fish and wildlife.  

According to a recent analysis by the California Department of Water Resources, "throughout California groundwater resources are at historically low levels…and recent groundwater levels are more than 100 feet below previous historic lows" in some parts of the state. In addition, the Department measured California's snowpack last week and found just 18 percent of average water content for this time of year, putting greater demand on the state's groundwater resources.

Groundwater is one of the only supplies available for some regions during drought, which underscores the need to ensure this supply is secure for future droughts.

"California is an agricultural state and our farms rely heavily on groundwater, especially during a drought. Our consumers rely on the diverse, bountiful and nutritious food supply that our farmers provide, so it is essential that we take action to sustainably manage our groundwater to ensure the continued viability of agriculture and the state's farm economy," said Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. "The Brown Administration views groundwater as a serious issue, which is why the state asked the California Water Foundation to bring stakeholders together to inform policy change."

CWF's groundwater report explains that groundwater subbasins are like a linked system of hundreds of shared bank accounts supporting diverse uses of water across the state. Because there has been too little focus on balancing these accounts, in parts of the state, significantly more groundwater has been extracted than is replenished naturally or by human actions. As a result,California's groundwater challenges have reached crisis level and action simply cannot be put off any longer. Agreement must be reached and solutions must be set in motion.

 "California Water Foundation's stakeholder process helped break down longstanding barriers between stakeholders about the way we manage groundwater in California," said Ken Manning, president of the California Groundwater Coalition and executive director ofSan Gabriel Basin Water Quality Authority. "The report provides a solid framework for developing sustainable groundwater policies and common-sense solutions to protect our groundwater supplies."

Through the dialogue process, CWF developed a framework to improve groundwater management to be considered by the administration and state legislature including:

  1. Establishing statewide goals and a definition for sustainable groundwater management.
  2. Empowering local groundwater management entities to provide locally developed solutions for sustainable groundwater management in their areas, and provide them with the tools to succeed.
  3. Authorizing the state to provide technical support, funding, oversight, and where necessary, enforcement to ensure the sustainable groundwater management goals are achieved.

CWF's groundwater report illustrates the mounting support for improved groundwater management. The Association of California Water Agencies also recently issued a report with recommendations on the issue.

"To make this system work, we must empower local water managers with the authority and the resources necessary to sustainably manage their groundwater basins and protect stored water supplies – goals that are precisely outlined by both ACWA's and California Water Foundation's recommendations," said David Orth, general manager of the Kings River Conservation District. "We look forward to continued collaboration among the diverse stakeholders who contributed to the California Water Foundation report."

CWF is continuing dialogue with stakeholders with the objective of turning the framework into action by advocating for policy actions, continuing to build support around the report's recommendations, and directly investing in groundwater management projects in key regions throughout the state. Read CWF's full groundwater report online.

About California Water Foundation
The California Water Foundation (CWF) seeks to transition California to a sustainable and resilient water future – a future in which water is managed as a natural resource, looking across all sources and uses to find the best solutions for social welfare, economic development, and environmental sustainability.  CWF supports innovative projects and policies that address water challenges today, while achieving long-term, science-based solutions for the future. CWF is an initiative of Resources Legacy Fund, with primary funding from S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and Pisces Foundation, and additional support from David and Lucile Packard Foundation and others. Learn more at: http://www.californiawaterfoundation.org.

SOURCE: California Water Foundation

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