According to the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), the 2013-2014 period is the driest year in the state’s recorded history.
In Inyo County, where water export and disputes are long-running and have often been contentious. water is more precious than gold.
At the February 10 meeting of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, Water Department Director Dr. Bob Harrington presented the board with an overview of the controversial and intricate legislation known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, passed last September by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Brown. He noted that California was the last Western state to adopt such a measure.
The long-delayed action on groundwater given California’s history of droughts, shows the considerable influence that large agribusiness has on state politics, as do large cities dependent on water. But reality has a way of changing the political landscape, although some critics of the new plan say it is too little, too late.
Harrington told the supervisors that the law requires that plans and reports be made to the state by local jurisdictions such as counties and water districts. “The alternative,” he said, “is that failure to do so will result in the state stepping in to develop a plan that may not be to the local jurisdiction’s liking … and you would still have to pay the state for doing it.”
A bright spot of the new regulations are that there is has an exemption for water basins that are adjudicated. Presumably that means that much of the County’s water resources under the Long Term Water Agreement with the City of Los Angeles will be exempt from most of the law’s requirements, although according to Harrington, the question remains whether or not the LTWA, an agreement to prevent litigation, is considered to be “adjudicated.” He thinks that most likely it will be considered as such.
The new law directs local water suppliers and municipalities to immediately implement local water shortage contingency plans and update water management plans. It directs the DWR to undertake a statewide water conservation program to reduce water use by 20 percent and expedite efficient use of water. The law also directs the state board to find ways to accelerate funding for water supply enhancement projects that are capable of breaking ground this year. And one especially contentious requirement, opposed by large Agribusiness interests, is the law’s requirement to put state water right holders on notice that they may be required to cease or reduce water diversions.
The new law will not affect the County’s ability to issue well permits
In adition, local counties (and any jurisdiction or party affected) must be consulted in developing plans and regulations that may affect them under their General Land Use Plan.
According to Harrington, there are 515 water basins identified by the DWR. Of those, 127 are considered medium-to-high priority based on many factors such as population and projected population, reliance on groundwater, agricultural use, and so on.
Fifth District Supervisor Matt Kingsley asked, “Will the County be exempt from submitting a plan?” Harrington replied that it would seem likely that it would be, but the County would still have to provide reports and data to the DWR.
Dan Totheroh, First District Supervisor, wondered if jurisdictions with basins considered a low-priority would be exempt from the law’s requirement to submit a plan, which could be very costly. He also asked for clarification on whether or not anything in the law prevents a low-priority jurisdiction from developing their own a plan. Harrington seemed to feel that low-priority basins and the jurisdictions overseeing them would be exempt. He noted that there was nothing to prevent a jurisdiction from developing a plan and that they would still be involved in the state process, as would any affected parties regardless of their priority classification.