Environment US: California cracks down on water pumping: ‘The ground is collapsing’

tom_mai78101

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Even after two back-to-back wet years, California’s water wars are far from over. On Tuesday, state water officials took an unprecedented step to intervene in the destructive pumping of depleted groundwater in the state’s sprawling agricultural heartland.

The decision puts a farming region known as the Tulare Lake groundwater subbasin, which includes roughly 837 sq miles in the rural San Joaquin valley, on “probation” in accordance with a sustainable groundwater use law passed a decade ago. Large water users will face fees and state oversight of their pumping.

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The move, which water officials reassured farmers would be lifted if local agencies progress on developing stronger sustainability plans to mitigate issues, is the first of its kind – but has been years in the making. Over-pumping of groundwater in this region has caused the land to collapse faster than in almost any other area in the country, in some places sinking more than a foot every year. Officials say the Tulare Lake groundwater subbasin failed for years to provide adequate plans to mitigate their well-known water problems.

Such plans are required under California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), a landmark law that required local agencies to come up with their own long-term strategies to curb over-extraction and empowers the state to supervise and enforce them. Probation is a compulsory step to set lagging local agencies back on track to achieve sustainability goals that must be met by 2040.

The Tulare Lake subbasin is one of six the state has put up for possible probation due to inadequate plans, all in the San Joaquin valley, the powerhouse of California’s more than $50bn agricultural industry. The crackdown here has been met with a strong backlash.

The decision followed a nine-hour hearing on Tuesday where farmers protested the economic toll it would take on their industry. They cast the expected fees on their pumping as a devastating blow to the work they do and their ability to do it in the future.

 
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