Secretary Ross talks groundwater with Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)

Water is flowing from a large pipe into an irrigation canal. The focus is on the water coming out of the pipe. There is wheat crop and trees in the back ground and they are blurred.

“Groundwater: Act Locally, Think Sustainably”

By Lori Pottinger

The complex challenges that the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act aims to resolve don’t lend themselves to quick fixes. With the deadline for the first major step—forming “groundwater sustainability agencies” in affected basins—coming up in June, we asked Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, about progress to date.

PPIC: How are California communities doing in implementing the law so far?

Karen Ross: I’ve been very impressed with how implementation is progressing. Clearly, people realize it’s time to address groundwater sustainability, and they are working together at the local level because they prefer that to state action. This is a big undertaking because to address groundwater covers areas like land use and economic development for cities and counties. So the progress made on establishing the governance structure is just the first step. The next step is the hard part: putting together plans that will bring basins back into water balance. That will require very difficult decisions about how the resource is allocated and managed.

The state is supporting this process in a number of ways. Our colleagues at the Department of Water Resources (DWR) have a huge role to play in supporting the process by establishing guidance for governance structures and the criteria for what constitutes a sustainable groundwater plan. The state is backing that up with facilitation and financial support. For example, DWR awarded $6.7 million in grants last year to 21 counties for groundwater planning projects, and just last month the Department of Food and Agriculture and DWR announced a joint $6 million water efficiency grant program for agricultural water suppliers and farmers.

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