Viewpoints: California needs to effectively manage its groundwater basins

If you look closely at the economic impact of California agriculture, it’s staggering how much the nation – and even the world – relies on our farmers and ranchers. The state accounted for 15 percent of national receipts for crops and 7.1 percent of the U.S. revenue for livestock and livestock products in 2012, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Our farms and ranches exported $18.18 billion in value that same year.

California farms depend on several factors to ensure they can cultivate the foods that feed our state and nation: a dedicated workforce, rich soil, sunshine and plentiful water. One of the main sources of irrigation in the state is groundwater, which is as crucial to the welfare of our farms and ranches as surface water. Without it, the state’s $45 billion agriculture industry would be in jeopardy, and many of the fruits and vegetables we’re accustomed to eating wouldn’t be available.

The issues facing California farmers have been brought to the forefront by this year’s drought, which threatens to cause problems well into the future. Most of the attention on how to fix California’s water woes has been focused on a water bond that state legislators are trying to finalize in time for the November ballot.

It’s an important deadline, with thousands of farmers and millions of Californians counting on the Legislature to compromise on a bond deal. It will go a long way toward fixing California’s broken water system, including funding for locals to better manage their groundwater resources. But even with that added funding, California remains the only state without a comprehensive framework to protect our groundwater supplies.

California has overused groundwater basins for decades. What this means for farmers is that reserves needed during periods like this year’s drought dwindle. As California’s water needs increase, it is extremely important that we effectively manage our groundwater basins to make sure the water is available during future droughts.

Here’s the critical issue: existing laws and currently available funding are not sufficient to meet today’s water crisis or future challenges. However, if we work to empower local government and support state regulations, we can protect and effectively manage our groundwater resources. The situation is urgent, and we must take the necessary action now.

Efforts are underway to ensure sustainable groundwater management. Besides the water bond, the Legislature is also considering proposals that will help achieve sustainable management of groundwater basins. As we focus on ground water overdraft, California must continue to address the critical issue of water storage and recharge.

Groundwater is the life’s blood of the agricultural industry, the source of 60 percent or more of the water used during droughts. It’s needed by the roughly 30 million people that rely on it for a portion of their drinking water. In order to help preserve and protect agriculture – and the jobs it creates and supports – we need to take care of this resource. Let’s work to provide local governments with the assets they need to prepare local groundwater plans and make sure the state has a vision for our future.

California’s water needs aren’t going away, which is why it’s so important that we effectively manage our groundwater basins to make sure water is available when both current and future generations of farmers and ranchers need it the most.