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Governor Signs Groundwater Legislation

September 16, 2014
Gov. Jerry Brown today signed the state’s first comprehensive groundwater legislation, ending the era of unlimited pumping in California.
 
Before the passage of AB 1739 (Dickinson), SB 1168 (Pavley) and SB 1319 (Pavley), California had stood alone among western states in it its lack of meaningful groundwater management rules.
 
The legislation requires that local governments assemble groundwater sustainability plans in all high- and medium-priority groundwater basins, as identified by the Department of Water Resources (DWR).
 
If local agencies fail to submit adequate plans or are not implementing their plans, DWR and the State Water Resources Control Board will intervene until they are able to manage the basin.
 
Groundwater sustainability plans will be required in basins with critical overdraft conditions starting in 2020 and all other medium and high priority basins after 2022. The legislation allows for a probationary period for basins in partial compliance, in some instances.
 
The laws apply to basins that do not have an existing sustainability plan or have not had their water rights defined by a court. The majority of the state’s population lives within the boundaries of adjudicated basins.
 
The legislation will likely affect most rural cities relying heavily on well water and often situated in farming or ranching areas.
 
The League of California Cities did not take a formal position on the trio of bills, but its legislative representatives worked closely with interested members cities, the bills’ authors and the Governor’s office. They pushed for cities to maintain their authority over local land-use planning and to address other concerns about the language.
 
The League succeeded in ensuring that cities will have a voice at the table in all discussions about groundwater sustainability plans affecting them, that cities will have fee authority to recover costs and that — in an effort to help cities meet the law’s deadlines — the planning process will be exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.
 
The League remains concerned over the lack of a clear process within the laws to designate a lead agency in the drafting of groundwater plans.
 
Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond on the Nov. 4 ballot, includes $100 million to fund planning in medium- and high-priority groundwater basins.
 
The League board of directors voted earlier this month to support the bond measure.


 
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