Water for Food

New report uncovers five hallmarks of successful groundwater management

Jan. 25, 2018

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA) Perhaps the most important element of successful groundwater management is trust. At least that’s what Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI) discovered while investigating the tools and strategies used by groundwater managers across the Western U.S.

The Future of Groundwater in California

In a new report released today, EDF and DWFI seek to provide guidance to groundwater managers in California as they grapple with implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Passed in 2014, SGMA, for the first time and on an unprecedented scale, created a mandate to rebalance groundwater aquifers and change how they are managed statewide.

“California has embarked on a new era of groundwater management,” said Christina Babbitt, senior manager of EDF’s California Groundwater Program. “This is no longer the Wild West. Now communities and water districts face the considerable challenge of creating successful groundwater management programs. This new report can help them.”

Going beyond the typical technical guidance, The Future of Groundwater in California attempts to get at the “story behind the story” by drawing upon varied experiences of groundwater management to try to understand what works and what does not. The report uses nine case studies from six states to present key lessons learned. The case studies are from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon and Texas, and represent a wide range of hydrology, climates, legal structures and water uses.

The report found that, while there are a number of regulatory and voluntary tools available to water managers, ultimately the most effective groundwater management programs had five key elements:

  • Trust and community involvement
  • Accurate data
  • A portfolio of approaches
  • Performance metrics
  • Access to adequate funding

Building trust within communities and among people most impacted by groundwater policies emerged as a key, yet often overlooked element of successful groundwater management. In many cases, trust building began by having broad community involvement from the very earliest stages of program development.

“It is vital that all stakeholders feel empowered and part of the process for a program to be effective,” said Babbitt. “We are living in a world in which trust is in short supply, so it was encouraging to see that programs had built such strong levels of trust.”

“There is no silver bullet solution to groundwater management. But there are some surprising similarities between some of the most effective programs we looked at,” said Kate Gibson, DWFI’s program coordinator. “Effective management takes time and a lot of patience. Fortunately, California water managers don’t need to go it alone. There’s a lot of knowledge out there and some unique solutions have been developed already.”


Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and our Growing Returns blog.

The Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska was founded in 2010 to address the global challenge of achieving food security with less stress on water resources through improved water management in agricultural and food systems. We are committed to ensuring a water and food secure world while maintaining the use of water for other human and environmental needs.

Learn more at waterforfood.nebraska.edu or follow on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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