Managing Groundwater In a Time of Increasing Demand and Changing Climate
Best Best & Krieger LLP
A changing climate, population growth and other factors are placing greater demands on water resources, particularly groundwater and straining the institutions and laws that govern it. California has faced these challenges for more than half a century, and while California has had some notable and well-publicized groundwater management problems, some groundwater management efforts in Southern California have been very successful. Indeed they have been so successful that some experts have cited them as examples of some of the best managed common pool resources in the world. This presentation will explore the local, self-governing management structures that have functioned within California’s extremely complex water rights system that are responsible for this water management success. The presentation will discuss the key elements that have made these management structures successful and why, ultimately, most successful, if not all, groundwater management must be local. In California these management structures have largely been implemented through adjudications. This presentation will explore several adjudications, specifically those in the Raymond, Los Angeles, Santa Maria and Antelope Valley basins. It will discuss how water rights and priorities factored in to the physical solutions and the role of the Constitutional doctrine of reasonable use in reaching an allocation of water. It will also briefly discuss the impact of the recently adopted Sustainable Groundwater Management Act on physical solutions and future adjudications. Importantly, the water law concept of reasonable utilization, which is conceptually similar to California’s reasonable use doctrine, is present in water law regimes throughout the world. Although many countries lack the strong rule of law present in California, I will discuss how these structures may possibly be employed effectively around the world and specifically how their adaptive management aspects are essential to adapting water law regimes to climate change. The presentation will cite some specific examples at the international level, from Central and South America and Africa, where the elements that have led to successful physical solutions and groundwater management in California are present.