University of California


Nelson, Rebecca L.

Presentation Title
Till the Wells Run Dry? Dealing with Groundwater Depletion in Victoria,
Stanford University
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This study contrasts the regulatory experience of California, USA with that of Victoria, Australia in preventing and responding to groundwater depletion by controlling groundwater extraction. California and Victoria share a Mediterranean climate, concerns about how climate change will affect water availability, increasing groundwater use, and common roots in relation to water law. Groundwater regulation is a live political and legal issue in both jurisdictions. In the face of these ongoing policy discussions in both jurisdictions, this study analyzes empirically how key groundwater control mechanisms are presently established and implemented under contrasting regulatory approaches. On its face, Victorian law provides for close control of groundwater extraction, whereas Californian law takes a more laissez-faire approach. This study seeks to examine how groundwater controls are implemented in practice, an issue which is yet to receive significant study in both jurisdictions. The study focuses on five key aspects of groundwater legislation and its implementation in practice: (a) the collection of groundwater information to support management; (b) management planning; (c) different methods of dealing with groundwater depletion, including export restrictions, extraction limits, replenishment and conservation; (d) enforcement of groundwater controls; and (e) the identity of key decision-makers. The study also seeks to determine how these elements vary with the characteristics of the situation regulated, for example, the specific problems caused by groundwater extraction, the resources available to the managing agency, and the gravity of groundwater depletion. First, content analysis is carried out in relation to the documents that constitute the relevant regulatory mechanisms in Victoria and California, to systematically code the elements of interest. These documents include management plans, ordinances, legislation and regulatory declarations. Second, interviews with key stakeholders are carried out in relation to a small number of individual regulatory control mechanisms, which are selected to illuminate key patterns revealed by the content analysis. This two-step method seeks to show how groundwater regulations are used in practice to control groundwater extraction in two regions suffering from water scarcity, thereby seeking to inform ongoing debates over groundwater policy and legal reform.

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