When Californians faced mandated water-use restrictions during a six-year drought, groundwater, which was immune from the cutbacks, slipped through the cracks, literally.
A bill introduced by California Assembly member Steve Bennett of Ventura would permit new well-drilling projects only after proof is provided that they will not harm drinking water or otherwise obstruct sustainable groundwater management.
AB 2201, known as the "Community Drinking Water Protection Act," is moving through the state Senate, where it faces opposition from some agricultural organizations and water districts.
Permits for new wells are determined by county governments, which are not required to consider groundwater sustainability when granting them. This is why more than 6,200 new agricultural wells have been drilled throughout California since 2014.
The bill is aimed at counties in California's Central Valley and Central Coast, which are among the world's most fertile agricultural regions and where new wells have been permitted in high-priority basins, the law would also apply to the sinking of new wells in medium priority basins as well. There is a chance the bill can be amended to apply only to the higher priority groundwater basins, leaving those basins currently in a state of replenishment, such as the golf-centric Coachella Valley, outside the confines of the additional regulatory hurdles.
Introduced in February, AB 2201 passed the full Assembly by a vote of 44-24 (10 abstentions) on May 23, and was referred to the Senate.