On Sept. 16, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed historic legislation to strengthen local management and monitoring of groundwater basins most critical to California’s water needs. The law puts California communities on a path to become more resilient to water shortages.

The three bills signed by the governor create a framework for sustainable, local groundwater management for the first time in California history. The new legislation also means that California no longer is the only Western state that does not manage groundwater. The legislation allows local agencies to tailor sustainable groundwater plans to their regional economic and environmental needs. It also will help prevent issues such as subsidence and contamination.

Groundwater is a critical element of the state’s water system, making up more than one-third of California’s water supply. The bills establish a definition of sustainable groundwater management and require local agencies to adopt management plans for the state’s most important groundwater basins. The legislation prioritizes groundwater basins that are currently overdrafted and sets a timeline for implementation:

  • By 2017, local groundwater management agencies must be identified;
  • By 2020, overdrafted groundwater basins must have sustainability plans;
  • By 2022, other high and medium priority basins not currently in overdraft must have sustainability plans; and
  • By 2040, all high- and medium-priority groundwater basins must achieve sustainability.

Additionally, the legislation provides measurable objectives and milestones to reach sustainability and a state role of limited intervention when local agencies are unable or unwilling to adopt sustainable management plans.

Also in September, Brown signed legislation making California the first to initiate a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, aligning state law with ordinances passed by a growing number of local governments. According to LA Stormwater, 80% of marine litter starts on land, and most is plastic. Read more about the bag ban in their blog.

The legislation, authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), prohibits grocery stores and pharmacies from distributing single-use plastic bags after July 2015 and enacts the same ban for convenience stores and liquor stores the following year. It also will provide up to $2 million in competitive loans – administered by CalRecycle – to businesses transitioning to the manufacture of reusable bags.