New Report Uncovers Five Hallmarks of Successful Groundwater Management

Lessons from across the western US will help California achieve goals set forth in SGMA

January 29, 2018
Brian Strachan, (415) 293-6139,

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA) Perhaps the two most important elements of successful groundwater management are trust and community engagement. 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.

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: Lessons in Sustainable Management from Across the West 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 areas reflective of a wide range of hydrologic conditions, governance structures and water uses.

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

  1. Trust and community involvement
  2. Accurate data
  3. A portfolio of approaches
  4. Performance metrics
  5. 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 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 discovered already.”

The report can be found here. Visual assets are available and Christina Babbitt is available for interviews.

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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 or follow on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.