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The Next Play In The NRDC's Playbook

One of them is the 'reasonable use' clause of the 'public trust' doctrine

Feb 04, 2011


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The Next Play In The NRDC's Playbook!

The California Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee held a hearing this week to address groundwater resources in California(see article below).  The chair of the committee is Assemblyman Jared Huffman(D-San Rafeal).  You may remember him as a lawyer with the NRDC(Natural Resources Defense Council), the environmental organization that sued the Federal Government and created the loss of water supplies for farmers who use the San Joaquin River.  The NRDC is part of a broad-ranging coalition of environmental groups who are mounting a multi-pronged attack on all facets of water use in the state.  The river restoration was one of those prongs.  The Delta pumps is another. 

While we are fighting for water on these fronts, the environmental groups expand their attacks on other fronts.  One of them is the 'reasonable use' clause of the 'public trust' doctrine that we've been writing about recently.  The other is groundwater management.  Assemblyman Huffman said at this hearing that California is the only Western state that doesn't manage groundwater through a centralized statewide system.  Remember, in the State of California there are new rules (because of the NRDC lawsuit) about the amount of water flowing down the San Joaquin River and out to sea.  If we could use the pumps to their full capacity, we could get some of that water back.  But, we all know the problem with the Delta Smelt and the pumps(NRDC lawsuit).  So, now that your surface water is pretty much under the control of the feds or the state, they are now looking at your groundwater.  Read the language in the article below very carefully.  They are being very candid about what they are trying to do. 

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Lawmakers Get Overview Of Groundwater Issues


Lisa Lien-Mager

Management of the state’s groundwater resources was the focus of an oversight hearing Feb. 1 in the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.

The three-hour hearing offered an overview of groundwater basics as well as a look at case studies of successful local management. Speakers also described current and future challenges to groundwater, including contamination, salts, overdraft and lack of comprehensive data management.

Assembly Member Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), chair of the committee, called the hearing the beginning of a constructive conversation about groundwater. He said California is the only Western state that does not manage groundwater through a centralized statewide system.

“We need to follow the lead of every other Western state and do a better job of managing groundwater,” Huffman said.

Thomas Harter, a groundwater hydrologist and professor at the University of California, Davis, provided a primer on the state’s groundwater resources and their relationship to surface water and other parts of the hydrologic cycle.

“The fact that groundwater and surface water are linked means that we need to conjunctively use and manage them,” Harter said. He pointed to integrated regional water planning as a critical path to managing groundwater as part of the whole system, instead of as a single, isolated resource.

Anton Favorini-Csorba, representing the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, discussed policy implications for groundwater and recommendations offered by the LAO in a recent report titled “Liquid Assets: Improving Management of the State’s Groundwater Resources.” The report called for a more comprehensive groundwater monitoring system and the establishment of active management areas to govern withdrawal and use of groundwater in areas most at risk of overdraft or contamination.

The LAO also suggested the Legislature consider phasing in a statewide groundwater permitting system while maintaining local control over permitting activities to the extent possible.

Mary Scruggs, engineering geologist with the California Department of Water Resources, described the state's efforts to implement new requirements to monitor groundwater elevations through the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring (CASGEM) program.

Jay Jasperse, chief engineer for the Sonoma County Water Agency; David Orth, general manager of the Kings River Conservation District; and Shawn Dewane, director, and Michael Marcus, general manager, Orange County Water District, provided local case studies in groundwater management.

Jasperse said SCWA views its groundwater management activities as an ongoing commitment. “Active management is what we need to do to manage the resource,” he said.

Orth said agency and its partners see a long-term planning horizon that will take decades to reach the goal of stabilizing the groundwater basin.

“It took 40 years to get us to this point. We will not resolve it in one or two years,” Orth said.


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