Despite the wet start of 2016, many parts of California continue to face severe water shortages.  The state has grown ever more tapped with groundwater production wells as Californians seek to utilize aquifers to meet their water needs.  However, experts have warned that this modern-day “gold rush” for water from underground aquifers may carry serious consequences for the environment and the future, as well as groundwater users (particularly as implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act gets underway).

In response, Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) has introduced legislation that will halt the development of new water wells in aquifers at risk of overdraft. The Aquifer Protection Act would require cities or counties overlying groundwater basins designated as high- or medium-priority under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (Water Code section 10722.4) to require conditional use permits for new water wells.  The bill prohibits new well permits in basins of critical overdraft and basins that are in probationary status.

Cities and counties can avoid the requirements of the Aquifer Protection Act by passing their own limits, which is easier said than done given the hotly contested fights over access to water and water rights. Wells yielding small amounts of water and replacement wells are exempt from the Act.

In her press release, Senator Wolk stated that the depletion of California’s aquifers “is a serious problem that affects everyone, and it is getting worse.”  She went on to say that Californians need to “stop digging deeper while we figure out how to manage… these aquifers in a sustainable manner.”

Senator Wolk noted that rapid groundwater withdrawals have the potential to cause aquifers to collapse. Not only can this permanently decrease the amount of water that an aquifer can hold, but it can also lead to disruptions on the surface through land subsidence.

Having just been introduced, it is hard to gauge whether this bill will make it all the way to the Governor’s desk. On the one hand, lawmakers continue to search for policy solutions to the drought and water supply shortages.  On the other hand, landowners and water users of various types and sizes will not go quietly as they become more and more reliant on ground water resources.  We will continue to monitor and report on this legislation.