Well Water Watch

April 1, 2015

About the author: Margaret Martens is executive director of the Water Systems Council. Martens can be reached at [email protected]. Jesse Richardson is lead land use attorney for the West Virginia University College of Law’s Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic. Richardson can be reached at [email protected].

Many residents across the U.S. rely on groundwater for their potable water supply, whether from a private water well or a municipal system that draws from a groundwater source. In recent years, legislation has put greater focus on wells and groundwater resources, with the potential to affect millions. WQP Managing Editor Kate Cline recently checked in with Margaret Martens of the Water Systems Council (WSC) and Jesse Richardson of West Virginia University to get the latest legislative updates.

Kate Cline: What new groundwater regulations will take effect this year?

Jesse Richardson: In 2014, the California legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The act affects dramatic change in California, where groundwater had been managed by local agencies to this point. In addition, authority granted under the act includes controversial measures such as metering of all wells and groundwater extraction fees. 

Local governments that include a groundwater basin have five to seven years to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) and create a Groundwater Sustainability Plan, the implementation of which must achieve sustainability within 20 years. The California Department of Water Resources has categorized each of the 515 basins by priority. The 127 basins designated as high or medium priority provide approximately 90% of all groundwater produced in the state. The act does not apply to 26 basins that have been subject to prior court adjudication, mostly in Southern California.

Local agencies have until June 30, 2017, to form a GSA, which may require registration of wells, installation of water-measuring devices on all groundwater wells within the basin’s boundaries at the expense of the operator or owner, and annual extraction statements or other reasonable methods to determine groundwater extractions.

A GSA may impose well spacing requirements and control extractions by regulating, limiting or suspending extractions from individual wells. Fees may be assessed to establish and implement local groundwater management plans. These fees may include permit and groundwater extraction fees and fees imposed as property taxes.

Cline: What upcoming legislation may affect water wells?

Margaret Martens: On March 3, 2015, Rep. Marlin Stutzman reintroduced the Water Supply Cost Savings Act, or Savings Act, legislation to provide small communities across the nation with critical information on the use of water wells and water well systems to deliver high-quality, affordable drinking water.

The Savings Act is aimed at reducing the costs to federal, state and local governments in providing quality drinking water to millions of Americans living in rural and isolated communities by promoting cost-effective community well water systems.

To assist small communities with their consideration of drinking water technology needs, the Savings Act establishes a Drinking Water Technology Clearinghouse where the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the secretary of agriculture will disseminate information on cost-effective, innovative, alternative drinking water delivery systems, including systems that are supported by wells.

Cline: What other initiatives is WSC planning this year?

Martens: WSC is also holding the 2015 Great Lakes Children’s Water Festival at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College, in Erie, Pa., on May 14.

The event promises to be one of the largest WSC has hosted, drawing more than 1,700 students from three states. They will explore drinking water, groundwater, watersheds, surface water, well systems, and water quality and conservation through dynamic and interactive activities.  

Cline: What projects is the Water Well Trust planning this year?

Martens: The Water Well Trust, the national nonprofit helping Americans access a clean, safe water supply, announced in January that it completed the first of 19 wells it expects to drill or rehabilitate in northwest Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma to serve an estimated 145 individuals in this rural area.

In October 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a $140,000 grant to the Water Well Trust through its Household Water Well Systems Grant program for a project to increase potable water availability in five Arkansas counties—Franklin, Benton, Madison, Marion and Crawford—and Sequoyah County, Okla. WSC members donated an additional $71,400 for a 51% match for this project.

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About the Author

Kate Cline

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