- Author: Jean Fried, PhD
A California-European Union workshop on sustainable groundwater management and conflict resolution was held June 24-25, 2019 at the University of California, Irvine. The workshop was hosted by Water UCI and sponsored by the Orange County Water District, Irvine Ranch Water District, Water Replenishment District of Southern California, State Water Resources Control Board, California Department of Water Resources, and USGS California Water Science Center.
Gathering California water policy and decision-makers along with groundwater stakeholders and users, the workshop gave participants the opportunity to meet European Union (EU) water specialists, exchange experiences and ideas, and compare California and EU issues and solutions.
The idea for a workshop bringing EU groundwater policy and decision-makers to California came from observing the similarities in management goals and overall regulatory pressures in both places. While groundwater management in California was non-regulatory and essentially voluntary until recently, the EU began legislating and managing groundwater in 1980, collecting more than 30 years of water and groundwater legislative experience, notwithstanding the specific legislation and regulations of each Member State.
However, the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in 2014 set California on a fundamentally new course for how it manages groundwater. And, as already existing agencies, new Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, and regulators grapple with how to comply with SGMA, it proved beneficial for high-level EU water management specialists to meet with their California counterparts and various stakeholders. During the workshop, participants shared their experiences, discussed joint issues, and proposed solutions to shared challenges.
These two days together enabled participants to discuss five general topics: governance and management; quantity and quality issues; water rights; conflicts and their nature; and techniques to manage and resolve conflicts. A role-play about conflict gave participants the opportunity to try negotiating in a practical exercise that simulated a real case.
In addition to the prepared contributions of the invited speakers, a summary of the rather dense discussions, based on the notes taken by two students, will be integrated into the proceedings and available on the Water UCI website in the coming months.
From the discussions and exchanges, it appears the issues raised are critical, and that many more lessons can be learned. Therefore, the international dialogue and exchanges will continue in a series of annual workshops entitled “California Groundwater Policy, Governance, and Management: The Relevance of International Experience.” The next workshop will be held in June 2020, potentially focused on the economics of groundwater management.
Professor Jean Fried, PhD was the Chair of the Organizing Committee and is Project Scientist, Urban Planning and Public Policy and School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine.