Fellow Story

Two fellows contributors to special issue on sustainable groundwater management in California

Topic(s): Water Resources

Kristin Dobbin and Meredith Niles contributed articles to a new special issue of Society & Natural Resources titled, "Sustainable Groundwater Management in California: A Grand Experiment in Environmental Governance" released in December 2020.

Kristin Dobbin
"'Good Luck Fixing the Problem': Small-Small Low-Income Community Participation in Collaborative Groundwater Governance and Implications for Drinking Water Source Protection"

There is increasing interest in the potential of source water protection to address chronic challenges with small systems and rural drinking water provision. Such a planning and management approach to increasing safe drinking water access, however, will likely require leveraging multi-stakeholder collaborative governance venues to this effect. This paper investigates the prospects of doing so using the case of California’s groundwater reform process known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act or SGMA. Interviews with drinking water stakeholders from small low-income communities in the San Joaquin Valley show how existing power and resource disparities limit the prospects of integrating rural drinking water priorities into regional planning. Long-term, more fundamental changes will be needed to meaningfully transform water management in this direction. Short-term state intervention is needed to protect equity and public good goals, raising potential contradictions between devolved water management and improved drinking water access that need to be addressed.

Courtney R. Hammond Wagner & Meredith T. Niles
"What is Fair in Groundwater Allocation? Distributive and Procedural Fairness Perceptions of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act"

Fairness perceptions can contribute to trust or distrust in a policy process. Under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) basins may limit groundwater extraction for users, including farmers. Using a 2017 survey of 137 farmers in Yolo County, we adapt a typology of fairness principles, previously applied to climate policy, to examine farmers’ fairness perceptions for groundwater allocation strategies and reconciliation options. Yolo farmers show clear preference for allocation by overlying land area and dispute reconciliation by the local Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Using ordered logit regression models, we find that positive procedural perceptions of SGMA predict both allocation and dispute resolution preferences. We find no evidence for self-interested bias in allocation preferences, but rather the contextual default for allocation (egalitarian) appears to drive current fairness perceptions. Insight into contextual norms and perceptions of the policy process can align allocation and dispute resolution decisions with stakeholder fairness assessments.

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