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Unprecedented cooperation to avoid groundwater overdraft

February 14, 2023

After California passed into law the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), the importance of conjunctive surface water and groundwater data became evident. Objective data are needed to inform communication and unprecedented cooperation among basin stakeholders. Moreover, a paradigm shift in thinking is needed to address chronic water scarcity.

Online water balances

In the past, people were told to balance checkbooks and keep records independent of an online balance. Today online banking apps approximate available balances in near real time. Managing every credit/debit card, ATM and P2P transactions is tedious. However IT tallies them, providing estimated balances users can check to avoid overdraft and overdraft fees. Options let us view past, pending and scheduled transfers. The access and ease of this technology is particularly helpful in managing joint accounts shared by spouses, or parents and children.

How can we achieve similar awareness of underground water bank accounts? Defined by SGMA, Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) resemble joint bank accounts. Groundwater overdraft leaves less water in the bank for other aquifer users. Furthermore it accelerates the rate of land subsidence, or decreasing ground level.  Without intervention, sinking ground makes communities vulnerable to flooding and water pollution.

Local informed decisions

The interconnected nature of water management means a diverse mix of urban to agriculture interests. Thus, Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) must be coordinated at local levels. State agencies already know that a one size fits all policy across California won’t work. Though the California Farm Bureau Federation opposed how hastily SGMA was passed, it advocates for the need for data in decision-making and evaluating efficient water use.

Tony Morgan of United Water Conservation District in Ventura County stressed the need for flexible and adaptable SGMA implementation. Beyond replenishing aquifers beyond monitoring water level and water quality in the Santa Clara River, the District must navigate environmental regulations like the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) mandates. He encouraged GSAs to be proactive rather than resistant. He also recommends that technical advisory groups meet regularly, to establish protocols to calculate and review sustainable yield (targets).

Each (GSA) player is asked to be more awareand then work together to definemeasurable sustainability goals and achieve them.

Anyone with student loans or a mortgage is not interested in more debt or subsidence on our neighbor’s farms. To borrow the words of Daniel Reynolds, Here Media, “We want to see a sign of what’s possible – as long as one is provided with inspiration and has patience for the sometimes slow-moving wheels of bureaucratic processes.”

Modern sensors and IT are being use to manage surface water resources. Technologies also exist to analyze surface water and groundwater interaction and monitor water quality, and even reuse collective water resources. As we navigate the complexities of water management, we need people willing to share data and apply that information to decisions that affect tomorrow.