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

April 29, 2016 | 10:59 am
Juliet Christian-Smith
Western States Regional Director

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.