Time for California to regulate groundwater usage

If any good can come from California’s ongoing drought, perhaps it is this: After decades of opposing limits on groundwater use, Central Valley farmers and water districts suddenly appear willing to accept state regulation.

In most years, about 30 percent of California’s water is pumped from underground, and during dry years that number can reach 60 percent or more. Yet unlike Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and even Texas, California does not regulate pumping. Recently, drought and rising demand for water-intensive crops such as almonds and grapes has led to increased groundwater use in the Central Valley that is causing the water table to drop rapidly, risking permanent damage to the aquifer, and requiring costly maintenance to roads, bridges and canals as land levels subside. Meanwhile, farmers find themselves locked in a costly competition with their neighbors to dig deeper and pump more while the water lasts.

The crisis has resulted in an unexpected development: Many of the state’s largest water users now agree with environmentalists that groundwater must be regulated.

It’s time for California to do what other arid Western states have done and regulate groundwater usage. The state Legislature should work quickly to protect this vital resource.