Two University of California scientists predict groundwater will be unavailable for much of the Golden State within a few decades if current practices aren’t changed.

UC Davis professors Thomas Harter and Helen Dahlke say a significant amount of California’s available water is being tapped from aquifers at unsustainable rates. In other words, it’s being taken out faster than it can be replaced.

In the special edition of California Agriculture released July 16, Harter, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist and UC Davis professor , and Dahlke call attention to the stress being placed on California's aquifers and the catastrophic consequences of not having this hidden resource available in future droughts.

In the University of California's premiere journal for agricultural research, the groundwater experts make the following key recommendations:

  • Groundwater is most effectively managed at the local or regional basin level, with support from the state;
  • Local groundwater management entities must be given better tools, such as clear mandates to assess, measure, monitor and allocate their groundwater and control its extraction;
  • The definition of groundwater sustainability can be set at the state level and translated into specific actionable thresholds that must be enforced locally; with a credible threat of state enforcement should the local efforts be unsuccessful; and,
  • Much better data collection, analysis, reporting and data integration are needed to provide transparency, to support local management efforts and to properly inform the public. This requires much stronger planning and support within the California Department of Water Resources and State Water Board.

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“Local land-use decisions on urban and agricultural development, which have critical impacts on groundwater resources, must be consistent with groundwater management objectives,” Harter and Dahlke write. “This will require significant communication between land-use and groundwater managers. Effective integration with water quality management and surface water management efforts, which are governed separately, is also required. And none of these efforts can occur without sustained funding through a mix of local and state sources.”