PPIC Blog on Water's Worth

Andrew Fisher
May 3, 2016

Andrew Fisher, a UC Water director and a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center research network, shared his views on the PPIC Blog regarding opportunities for compensating for groundwater recharge. In light of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, Fisher is hopeful that net metering and other creative solutions will encourage a variety of groundwater users to contribute to groundwater recharge. 

Paying for Groundwater Recharge

Pajaro Valley strawberry fieldWater levels in many of California’s groundwater basins have dropped too far, too fast in recent years, prompting a wave of experimental projects to augment the natural recharge of aquifers. But funding is a missing element in many of these efforts. A new local program to provide incentives for groundwater recharge could be replicated in other parts of the state.

Most Californians who use groundwater do not pay to use it. Instead, in many basins, property owners with an "overlying right” to water underground are free to extract as much as they need for "reasonable and beneficial use,” as loosely defined by state law, paying only for the costs of pumping.

The state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, enacted in 2014, empowers local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) to impose fees in support of long-term water resource management and develop funding mechanisms for projects that conserve water and augment available supplies.

Fisher and students at Pajaro Valley field site.

The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, adjacent to Monterey Bay, manages groundwater in one of California’s most productive and economically important agricultural areas. For decades, this area has experienced persistent groundwater overdraft. The water agency meters most wells and levies an "augmentation charge” to pumpers in the basin. In March, the agency’s Board of Directors approved a five-year pilot program of "recharge net metering.” The program seeks to enhance groundwater recharge by some 1,000 acre-feet per year using stormwater runoff from nearby slopes as the primary water supply.

Read more on the PPIC Blog