Inadequate Plans Must Now be Moved to Probation
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Today, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) took an important step towards protecting drinking water supplies by rejecting six Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) in the San Joaquin Valley. With a well drilling backlog of 1,600 dry domestic wells in California — and with households having to wait up to 20 years for relief — failing these plans was not only the right thing to do, but the only option. At the same time, we are disappointed DWR approved other plans that fail to protect drinking water users.
In 2014, the legislature mandated DWR to review all groundwater management plans submitted by local groundwater agencies and determine whether they adequately protect their basin from the six undesirable results of groundwater overuse. All of today’s rejected plans, if implemented, would have jeopardized the water supplies of thousands of Californians by allowing drinking water wells to go dry and failing to mitigate impacts to vulnerable communities. As the State Water Resources Control Board assumes local management of inadequate plans, protection of drinking water users must be prioritized.
“We are pleased to see that DWR is taking this critical step to reject inadequate groundwater management plans that would have harmed thousands of families across the San Joaquin Valley,” says Ngodoo Atume, Water Policy Analyst for Clean Water Action. “At the same time, we are disheartened by DWR’s approval of some plans that allow domestic and public supply wells to fail as groundwater over pumping continues. More work must be done by the Department to closely track and ensure approved plans continue to engage and protect drinking water users as plans are implemented.”
“The rejected plans would mostly harm low-income people of color reliant on shallow domestic wells or community wells for their only source of water. That was unacceptable. DWR must continue listening to families who have led the decades-long fight for safe and affordable drinking water in California,” says Tien Tran, Policy Advocate for Community Water Center.
While DWR failed six groundwater management plans, they approved six additional plans in basins where drinking water users and disadvantaged communities remain unprotected. As local agencies work on their 2025 updates and reflect progress in their annual reports, DWR must ensure approved basins are taking steps to protect communities. Continued overpumping has left many of these communities to increased well outages — over 1,400 wells went dry last year, and this year, despite record rainfall, more than 83 dry wells have been reported to DWR’s Dry well reporting tool. GSPs must monitor and protect vulnerable groundwater users.
“The State Water Board must quickly begin the public process to implement fixes for inadequate plans to protect access to safe and affordable drinking water,” says Nataly Escobedo-Garcia, Policy Coordinator for Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “Additionally, for plans that were approved today that allow drinking water wells to fail, DWR must ensure implementation of meaningful corrective actions that proactively prevent additional drinking water well failures. If meaningful corrective actions are not implemented, DWR must immediately revert their decisions and deem these plans inadequate.”
The six plans approved by DWR do not address key tenets of groundwater sustainability including: water quality, climate change resilience, well mitigation, and inclusive stakeholder engagement. The majority of local plans failed to adequately identify, engage and include disadvantaged communities and drinking water users in their plan development which is evident in their implementation. DWR must provide more detailed guidance and tools for local agencies to improve plans, especially related to water quality and groundwater monitoring.
For the six plans which failed, the State Water Board needs to immediately initiate the public process to put basins in probation. While the state is preparing to hold a public hearing to put basins in probation, they must initiate adequate monitoring by requiring basin-wide metering, prepare users to submit extraction reports, and put in place extraction fees to reduce overpumping, fund critical aquifer recovery projects, and address the thousands of domestic wells and small water systems that have been dewatered.
The future of groundwater access in California is being shaped right now. We must protect our low-income communities of color who are most impacted by climate change and most dependent on the water below our feet. Time is of the essence to get this right — there is no plan B.
Community Water Center
Community Water Center (CWC) works to ensure that all communities have reliable access to safe, clean, and affordable water. Founded in 2006, CWC is a not-for-profit environmental justice organization, whose mission is to act as a catalyst for community-driven water solutions through education, organizing, and advocacy. Web: www.communitywatercenter.org. Twitter: @CWaterC Facebook: @CommunityWaterCenter
Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability
Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability works alongside the most impacted communities to advocate for sound policy and eradicate injustice to secure equal access to opportunity regardless of wealth, race, income and place. We work with community leaders throughout the San Joaquin Valley and Eastern Coachella Valley on such issues as safe affordable drinking water, basic transit services, wastewater services, decent affordable housing, and the right to live free from industrial pollution with infrastructure that supports healthy lifestyles. Through co-powerment, organizing, litigation, policy advocacy, and research, we confront California's stark inequalities manifest in too many of California's low income communities and communities of color. Twitter: LCJandA FB: @lcjacalifornia IG: @leadership_counsel Web: leadershipcounsel.org
Clean Water Action
Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking and people power to the table.
Our Mission is to protect our environment, health, economic well-being and community quality of life. Clean Water Action organizes strong grassroots groups and coalitions, and campaigns to elect environmental candidates and to solve environmental and community problems.
For more information, visit our website at www.cleanwater.org or follow us on Twitter @cleanh2oca and Facebook @CleanWaterActionCalifornia.