California water agencies fail to secure blanket immunity from lawsuits that could arise from efforts to control groundwater pumping
In California, the Kern County government may leave a coalition of local water agencies. This comes after the government failed to secure blanket immunity from lawsuits that could possibly arise from efforts to control local groundwater pumping.
According to The Bakersfield Californian, the proposal follows a written assurance by state water officials that the county’s withdrawal from the Kern Groundwater Authority will not jeopardize control of groundwater use across much of the area.
The move would amount to a retreat from the county’s previous efforts to take a role in helping local landowners comply with state rules intended to make groundwater use sustainable long term, according to The Bakersfield Californian.
According to County Administrator Ryan J. Aslop, Kern government had no business managing the use of local groundwater. Aslop said it will continue to lend a hand through land-use planning and permitting.
The proposed withdrawal is intended to protect taxpayers and the county’s general fund from years of litigation that Aslop said is likely to result when landowners are told they can no longer pump unlimited groundwater at no charge.
“The county has been told throughout history to stay out of the water business,” he said to The Bakersfield Californian. “Suddenly we are in this unprecedented position where we are in the water business, and we shouldn’t be.”
Lawyer Dennis Mullins, Kern Groundwater Authority (KGA) chairman, questioned Aslop’s assessment that the lawsuits are inevitable. According to Mullins, the coalition offered to protect the county from potential lawsuits by farmers.
According to The Bakersfield Californian, Mullins was surprised to learn that the county wanted out of the coalition. KGA had been awaiting a response from the county in groundwater management negotiations.
“If they couldn’t control the game, they took their ball and went home,” Mullins said to The Bakersfield Californian.
According to The Bakersfield Californian, the conflict highlights complexities surrounding the implementation of the State Groundwater Management Act. The act is a legislative effort signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014 aimed at making California groundwater pumping sustainable.
Local water agencies are required to send the state detailed plans on how they will monitor and regulate groundwater use in sustainable fashion, by Jan. 31, 2020.