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California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in 2014 as a step to bring the state’s depleted groundwater aquifers to sustainability.

Groundwater is a critical component of California’s water supply, and its importance is growing as climate change supercharges extreme flood and drought events. Groundwater not only provides a buffer against the impacts of climate change, it is also the primary water supply for many communities and ecosystems.

Despite its important role in the state’s water supply, California has over-pumped groundwater for decades, resulting in dropping water tables and drinking water wells going dry, affecting more than 1,400 wells in 2022 alone. Overdraft also causes groundwater aquifers — and the land above them — to collapse, a phenomenon that damages infrastructure including critical water conveyance such as the California aqueduct and the Friant-Kern Canal. Vulnerable groundwater users, such as those who rely on shallow drinking water or irrigation wells, and ecosystems that depend on groundwater, are particularly at risk from overuse of groundwater.

California made a serious commitment to bring the most depleted groundwater basins back into balance when it passed SGMA nearly a decade ago. This commitment is being carried out at the local level through the formation of hundreds of new groundwater agencies, the launch of basin-level planning processes, and the creation of groundwater sustainability plans.

With increased droughts, the implementation of SGMA and protection of vulnerable Californian communities dependent on small water systems and domestic wells is urgent. Over the last 3 years, Clean Water Action has reviewed and analyzed over 108 groundwater sustainability plans, in every groundwater basin covered by SGMA, closely evaluating the steps local agencies are taking to protect vulnerable communities. The results show that 63% of domestic wells, 60% of agricultural wells and 91% of groundwater dependent ecosystems are not protected under the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

This new summary report is co-authored by Ngodoo Atume, Senior Water Policy Analyst at Clean Water Action/Clean Water Fund, and summarizes the results of a recent scientific study published in Nature Communications. The goal of this report is to assess our path to groundwater sustainability in California. Because California’s water and economy are interconnected, the sustainable management of each basin is of interest to both local communities and the state as a whole. This report provides recommendations to the Department of Water Resources on how to protect vulnerable drinking water users and disadvantaged communities as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is being implemented.

Download The Report

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