Groundwater Bills Move Forward in the Legislature

Floor votes in the Legislature this week advanced two ACWA-supported bills aimed at sustainably managing California’s groundwater.

On Wednesday the Assembly approved AB 1739 by a 44-24 vote.

AB 1739 by Assembly Member Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) as currently written would establish a statutory definition of groundwater management and provide for enhanced minimum requirements for local groundwater management plans. It would also enhance and clarify tools and authorities for local agencies to improve groundwater management and outline specific steps for monitoring and reporting groundwater data.

On the Assembly floor Wednesday, Dickinson explained the bill as written would give local entities six years to develop a sustainable groundwater management plan and provide the tools and mechanisms needed to achieve sustainable groundwater management.

“The core of this bill is to keep the action local,” Dickinson said, adding that “for too long we have done too little.”

Assembly Member Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), chair of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, also voiced his support for AB 1739, noting that groundwater management in California is at a crossroad due to concerns about subsidence and well water levels.

Opponents of AB 1739 expressed concerns before the vote. Assembly Member Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals) called the legislation “overly broad” and said groundwater pumping needs to be managed, but not at the expense of property rights. Assembly Member Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) said the legislation could harm the economy.

In a separate development Tuesday, the Senate approved SB 1168 by a 24-12 vote.

SB 1168 by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) in its current form would establish a statutory framework to achieve sustainable management of groundwater basins throughout the state. According to SB 1168, all groundwater basins and subbasins in California would be managed sustainably by local entities and asked to adopt a sustainable groundwater management plan.

ACWA has taken “support if amended” positions on both SB 1168 and AB 1739 and is working closely with the authors as the bills move forward to incorporate principles from ACWA’s recommendations for sustainably managing California’s groundwater resources.

The ACWA recommendations introduced last month outline legislative and administrative changes that would strengthen groundwater management and accountability where it is deficient, provide new tools and authorities to restrict pumping or take other measures where appropriate, and define a “backstop” role for the state in cases where a local or regional agency is unable to protect and manage a basin.

Dickinson said Wednesday that AB 1739 includes many of AWCA’s groundwater recommendations and he applauded the association’s “groundbreaking efforts” on the issue.