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Open Access Publications from the University of California

How are Western water districts managing groundwater basins?

  • Author(s): Newman, Claire
  • Howitt, Richard E
  • MacEwan, Duncan
  • et al.

Making the transition from open-access groundwater rights to sustainable groundwater management is a formidable task for newly formed groundwater sustainability agencies in California. As agencies begin to decide how to make equitable water allocations, how to monitor groundwater use and what mix of supply- and demand-side mechanisms to adopt to satisfy sustainability criteria, the groundwater management strategies in place across other basins in the western United States are worth studying. We surveyed 18 groundwater districts in California and other Western states to identify the management approaches and practices they have instituted. The conclusions we draw suggest a correlative rights framework of water allocation with phase-ins for heavy users; metered pumping; flexible arrangements for trading and carrying over allocations for multiple years; and incentivizing groundwater recharge, including recharge from deep percolation from crops. Rigid formulas for significantly reducing groundwater use in medium- and high-priority basins are likely to have significant negative effects on the regional economy.

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