Report seeks to provide key elements of successful groundwater management for California managers

By on February 1, 2018

A report released Monday by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI), which has investigated the tools and strategies used by groundwater managers across the Western U.S., indicates that the two most important elements for successful groundwater management are trust and community engagement.

The two agencies stated that building trust within communities and among people most impacted by groundwater policies emerged as a key, yet often overlooked element of successful groundwater management. In many cases, trust building began by having broad community involvement from the very earliest stages of program development.

“There is no silver bullet solution to groundwater management. But there are surprising similarities between some of the most effective programs we looked at,” said Kate Gibson, DWFI’s program coordinator. DWFI was founded in 2010 at the University of Nebraska to address the global challenge of achieving food security with less stress on water resources through improved water management in agricultural and food systems.

The new report, The Future of Groundwater in California: Lessons in Sustainable Management from Across the West seeks to provide guidance to groundwater managers in California as they grapple with implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Passed in 2014, SGMA, created a mandate to rebalance groundwater aquifers and change how they are managed statewide.

“It is vital that all stakeholders feel empowered and part of the process for a program to be effective,” said Christina Babbitt, senior manager of EDF’s California Groundwater Program. “We are living in a world in which trust is in short supply, so it was encouraging to see that programs had built such strong levels of trust.”

The report goes beyond just technical guidance and attempts to get at the “story behind the story.” It draws upon varied experiences of groundwater management to try to understand what works and what does not. Nine case studies from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon and Texas present key lessons learned and represents areas reflective of a wide range of hydrologic conditions, governance structures and water uses.

While the report found that there is a diversity of regulatory and voluntary tools available to water managers, ultimately the most effective groundwater management programs had five key elements:

  • Trust and community involvement
  • Accurate data
  • A portfolio of approaches
  • Performance metrics
  • Access to adequate funding

“Effective management takes time and a lot of patience. Fortunately, California water managers don’t need to go it alone. There’s a lot of knowledge out there and some unique solutions have been discovered already,” said Gibson.

Babbitt was more pointed in her summation saying, “This is no longer the Wild West. Now communities and water districts face the considerable challenge of creating successful groundwater management programs. This new report can help them.”

The report can be found at: