Groundwater is a critical resource in the western 17 states. Groundwater provides drinking water to nearly 10 million people through self-supply wells, supports public-supply water systems, and plays a vital role for food production and industries, especially during drought when surface waters are less available. Ensuring adequate groundwater supplies are available to meet growing water demands of the West is important and suggests that groundwater management must transcend the status quo.
Here, we provide a state-of-the-art toolbox for understanding a sample of groundwater permitting approaches across the Southwest (one per state, selected to best inform California’s new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act). Groundwater withdrawal permitting applies to much of the West, and it has become an increasingly common tool for sustainable groundwater management at local, regional, and state levels. The precise legal terminology of groundwater permitting varies by state, but the concept used is similar: requiring a would-be pumper to gain permission before withdrawing groundwater. Sometimes even after permitting, there is a need to deal with water depletion or scarcity, for example by curtailing rights, but we do not address this ‘post-permitting scarcity management’ in this Dashboard; the Dashboard focuses only on permitting.
The Dashboard was created for agencies, water managers, and citizens interested in understanding groundwater withdrawal permitting. The Dashboard can provide baseline information for those considering introducing a permitting regime and those who want to find jurisdictions that face similar legal challenges. The Dashboard shows that there is a generalizable trend towards increased statutory management of groundwater; it is a starting point for learning from this living laboratory of diverse statutory approach.
Our toolbox includes one legal approach considered in each of the southwestern states. Even if a map does not show a special permitting area over a given part of a state, one might still need to gain permission to pump groundwater. Highlighting special permitting areas helps us understand an important aspect of how a state has chosen to regulate groundwater differently in certain areas, compared to its ‘default’ regulatory arrangements.