California targets groundwater overdraft, threatening small farms

California takes first-ever action against groundwater overuse in a major agricultural region, threatening small farmers and communities while setting a precedent for how the state will handle the crisis statewide.
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  • California regulators are poised to take action against groundwater overuse in a key agricultural region.
  • Kings Country water agencies could face probation for failing to protect groundwater supplies.
  • Decades of excessive pumping threaten drinking water and farming operations.
  • The crackdown foreshadows how the state will handle other over-drafted areas.

April 16, 2024 — Cal MattersOpens in a new tab., a non-profit and bipartisan journalism project, reported yesterday that California officials are taking direct action to address unsustainable groundwater use in its agricultural heartland for the first time in state history. On April 15th, the State Water Resources Control Board weighed whether to place Kings County’s groundwater management agencies on probation. This move stems from a failure by local officials and landowners to stem ongoing groundwater overuse in the region.

Probation is a serious step, signaling the state’s willingness to levy fees, and potentially take full control of groundwater in the region if local entities don’t fix the problem. Located in the San Joaquin Valley, the Tulare Lake Basin is vital for both farms and communities – but that water supply is disappearing. Years of over-pumping by powerful landowners and growers have dried up wells, polluted water with contaminants like arsenic, and caused sinking land.

The stakes are incredibly high, especially for small farmers. They could easily be priced out by new state fees and potentially forced to abandon the land entirely. Communities that rely on groundwater for drinking water are also deeply worried about water security. If nothing changes, the region’s vital agricultural industry – a major economic driver – could falter as well.

If the state imposes fees, growers and communities will be facing millions of dollars in added costs on top of the expenses already incurred trying to address well failures and contamination. The impact will ripple through the local economy. This is a complex problem, with solutions desperately needed by growers and communities alike. The state’s actions in Kings County will set a precedent for how it addresses over-drafted groundwater basins across California.

This blog article draws on reporting by CalMatters.  Please visit CalMatters for more in-depth informationOpens in a new tab..


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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