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California drought leads to groundwater crises and the toughest rules ever

The extended, history making drought in California is the third worst ever seen, according to a study by the University of California at Davis. The study report reveals that the state has extensive groundwater reserves, but they must be managed with precision. According to a July 15 SFGate report, The State Water Resources Control Board has approved the most draconian water use regulations ever, including huge fines and enforcement measures.

California Tumbleweed
Edith Allen

If extreme water conservation actions are not taken now, the the drought might challenge the state long after it ends. As it is, the drought is expected to cause water reduction problems until 2016.

The UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences study was released at a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. The study incorporated new data from the southern and coastal farming areas. Before, the fertile central valley was the focus. With the new data, the situation looks worse than ever. This has triggered a serious move to enforce water restriction rules.

With the new rules, water waste could generate up to $500 per day in fines. Local law enforcement and water agencies are charged with finding violations. Also, urban water agencies could be fined up to $10,000 per day for failing to implement water conservation measures.

The state has two main water sources: River water and groundwater that is pumped out and sent to the farming areas. The San Joaquin Valley and Tulare Basin contribute about 80 percent of the groundwater that is replacing lost river water. This water source is allowing a much more productive growing season than would otherwise be possible.

As it is, about three percent of the state's agricultural income is lost due to pumping costs and other revenue losses.

About 17,000 agricultural workers will not find jobs. Five percent of viable land will go fallow this year. This represents over 438,000 acres.

The two-year point is critical. If the drought lasts that much longer, the groundwater depletion will be much more difficult to obtain. Pumping will either cost too much or it will be too difficult to get the water out of the ground.

Since California is the only state without a comprehensive groundwater management plan, that will be the next step toward managing water as drought drags on.

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