Draft Groundwater Regulations Don’t Make the Grade: Water Commission Calls Out “Substantial” Loophole

, Former climate scientist | April 29, 2016, 10:59 am EDT
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Last week’s California Water Commission meeting should serve as a wake-up call to everyone interested in more sustainable groundwater management. Commissioners called out a “substantial” loophole in the draft regulations large enough to overwhelm the intent of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

I discussed similar issues when I blogged about the Department of Water Resource’s draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan regulations. While we praised the approach to data collection and reporting, we pointed out some key missing pieces, specifically the metrics the Department would use to measure success.

The importance of a grading rubric

For many years, I’ve taught college courses and, therefore, I know first-hand how important it is to have clear and fair rules for evaluation. A good grading rubric sets transparent standards so people understand how they will be graded and, therefore, how to best prepare. But what many people don’t consider is that a good grading rubric also helps the teacher, ensuring that he or she treats all students fairly by holding them to a consistent standard of performance.


Draft regulations lack clarity around what constitutes compliance

Unfortunately, the draft regulations do just the opposite. Instead of setting out a clear and consistent grading rubric for Groundwater Sustainability Plans, the regulations state that the Department will make a discretionary call as to whether the plans achieve “substantial” compliance. By adding the word “substantial” in front of compliance, the regulations complicate and confuse the issue at hand, which is a legislative mandate to achieve sustainable groundwater management. There is no “A-for-effort” when it comes to addressing critical overdraft, unprecedented land subsidence, and seawater intrusion. You either stop the undesirable results, or you don’t.

Water commission criticizes “substantial” compliance language

Five out of 8 Commissioners present at the Water Commission meeting last week asked for the deletion of the word “substantial” as an unnecessary qualifier. At the conclusion of the meeting, representatives from the Department stated that they were listening to the Commissioners comments but did not say whether they would remove the term “substantial” or clarify its use. Within the next week, the Department should release the final regulations, which will demonstrate how much the Department actually heard and whether the proposed regulations will achieve what the law clearly requires.

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  • Lawrence Oleary

    Thanks for sharing your direction. I believe the entire goal of the Act is to achieve Conservation for Ag and Environment water resources, but it gets tangled into a lot of knots on its way to an action item. To me, someone who has followed State Prop money for years, it however has become a maypole gather place for NGO’s to peel off a part of the $100 million via Prop 1. If Conservation is the eventual target, something must be measured. How about groundwater extractions? Hey, that’s novel! After all this is groundwater legislation.
    Today, it is possible to measure the water drafts of every well in impacted regions and have that data collected by the Basin Managers, a third-party clearinghouse, or TBD. Just deliver facts, and soon before the money drifts off to where it goes and another $100 million is needed from the voters. Measure and reporting caveat: They will have to be done anonymously for the next 10 to 20 years until Sustainability and Substantial can be defined by science to make the original legislation definable. Get the info and call-off the punitive actions. Growers have as much heart as any agency, political party, NGO and probably a lot more grace. It’s just not worn on their sleeves or acted out in street demonstrations.

  • solodoctor

    Thanks for an informative post. The overdraft of groundwater in Calif is an issue that has gotten sporadic attention in the mainline news media. It is severe and not really resolved by the more ‘normal’ rainy season we have just had here in the northern part of the state.

    For those who live in Calif and wish to encourage the Department of Water Resources to follow this advice they can do so by posting a comment at the following: http://www.water.ca.gov/canav/comment.cfm

    I just sent the DWR some comments about the need to remove the word ‘substantial’ from its draft of these regulations. I hope some of the readers will take a few moments to do so as well.