Senator Fran Pavley was Keynote Speaker at the 15th Annual California Water Law Symposium

Environmental Policy Director, Senator Fran Pavley was a keynote speaker at the 15th annual California Water Law Symposium hosted at UC Hastings School of Law. This year’s theme was “California Groundwater: SGMA and Beyond.” SGMA, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, is the first legislative measure to regulate groundwater in California’s history.

Senator Pavley, principal author of SGMA and California State Water Board Chair, Felicia Marcus discussed the complexities of this policy, from idea to implementation. Their discussion was moderated by Professor Richard Frank from UC Davis Law.

For decades, California’s groundwater had been over-drafted without any sort of sustainable framework. SGMA sought to change that and California’s consecutive drought years created the ideal political environment to do so.

“There is no way SGMA would have passed if we weren’t in a severe drought,” shared Senator Pavley. California’s severe drought conditions highlighted the dire need to protect its water sources and led to California becoming the last western state to regulate groundwater. 

Felicia Marcus then spoke about the challenges and keys of implementing SGMA. She mentioned how vital it is for the California State Water Board to work efficiently with local agencies. SGMA mandates local water agencies to create a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) for critically over-drafted basins by 2020 and for all remaining high to medium priority basins by 2022. Ms. Marcus mentioned it was key for local agencies to lead the way in the creation of their respective GSP’s while the State Water Board oversees compliance and supports local agencies along the way.

“The upside is folks who said they really wanted to get it done but needed this framework got to work,” said Mrs. Marcus. “We’ve gotten 99 percent compliance.”

There is a consensus that California water resources needs to be secured, but there is a continued discussion on the most efficient, equitable way to do so. Ms. Pavley ended the conversation by paraphrasing a quote from Benjamin Franklin, “We will know the worth of water when the well goes dry.”