- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - The state Senate approved legislation Tuesday asking local agencies to develop plans to manage groundwater, a supply that is largely unregulated throughout the state even amid a statewide drought.

“We shouldn’t waste the opportunity to act this year,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills.

Careful reporting and monitoring of groundwater levels is critical to ensuring the supply is not totally diminished, said Pavley, who added that the intent of her bill, SB1168, is to allow local agencies to manage their own water.

But it also would allow a state agency to step in to implement a groundwater management plan “upon a finding of compelling state interest,” which prompted a spirited debate among lawmakers.

Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, called it the “first step to dictatorial state control of our groundwater.”

“The well police, they’re always going to find something wrong,” he said.

Proponents of greater control say the lack of management of current groundwater supplies has led to a dramatic slippage of soil, known as subsidence, damage to the state aqueducts that run through the Central Valley, local wells going dry, further degradation of groundwater quality and rivers that can no longer support their ecosystems.

Gov. Jerry Brown also wants to enact statutory changes to the state’s groundwater management policy as part of the state budget that lawmakers will take up in June, according to a legislative analysis of Pavley’s bill.

The Senate approved SB1168 24-12, sending it to the Assembly.

The bill analysis says California is the only state that does not have a mandatory statewide groundwater management system. While some groundwater basins are sustainably managed, it also says many are not.

The legislation would apply to all groundwater basins and sub-basins.

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