California places farming barons on groundwater probation

By Camille von Kaenel | 04/17/2024 12:55 PM EDT

It’s the first time the state is enforcing a milestone 2014 law requiring local officials to control groundwater levels.

An irrigation canal runs past farmland in Lemoore, California.

An irrigation canal in Lemoore, California, in the heart of the Tulare Lake Basin. Noah Berger/AP

SACRAMENTO, California — California’s water regulator voted Tuesday to step into groundwater management in the southern San Joaquin Valley after determining local officials failed to curb overpumping.

The State Water Resources Control Board will levy fees on pumping in the Tulare Lake Basin and require landowners to report their well usage after deciding to place the local groundwater sustainability agency on probation.

It’s the first time the state has placed a basin on probation since lawmakers and former Gov. Jerry Brown (D) charged local officials with stopping groundwater levels from dropping by 2040, during the heart of the state’s last major drought a decade ago, via the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.


Groundwater provides roughly 40 percent of California’s drinking and irrigation water, and significantly more during drought years. The last two relatively wet winters did little to replenish aquifers that have been depleted after decades of overdraft.