3 ways this accounting platform will help California groundwater agencies transition to sustainable supplies

This blog is co-authored by Tara Moran, president and CEO of the California Water Data Consortium.

As California grapples with another drought, farmers and water agencies will again lean on groundwater to offset declines in surface water supplies stemming from paltry snowmelt and corresponding low reservoirs and river flows.

However, there is at least one major difference from the last drought: Since then, more than 250 groundwater agencies have been created and have spent the last several years compiling data on their region’s groundwater supply and demand. To comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) many groundwater agencies are now considering new tools to use this data to support groundwater management decisions.

Today, Environmental Defense Fund, the California Department of Water Resources, the State Water Resources Control Board and the California Water Data Consortium announced a partnership to scale one of these tools: an open-source water accounting platform. Here are three reasons why this announcement is so important.

1. Water accounting is the foundation of smart water management.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” may be a cliché, but it’s true for water. The online accounting platform co-developed by EDF with Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District in Kern County helps both water districts and landowners more easily track and manage water availability and use.

This platform was and will continue to be developed with feedback from landowners, water managers, policy experts, consultants, nonprofits, and state staff responsible for implementing and enforcing SGMA.

For instance, during workshops organized to inform platform design, landowners in Rosedale said they wanted a simple, straightforward user interface. Consequently, the platform lets landowners easily log into the platform from their computer and look at their water budget, similar to how they would check their bank account balance online. The platform also gives water managers a big-picture view of their entire district’s water budget.

The partnership with state water agencies will allow more features to be developed that landowners and water managers need.

Because the platform was developed using open-source software, it offers a cost-effective option for water managers to adapt and customize rather than developing their own tool from scratch. Easy customization is important because local conditions vary and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for groundwater management.

2. Consistency and standards will help multiple stakeholders.

While adoption of the platform is voluntary, there are advantages to having multiple groundwater agencies use it. Many groundwater basins are home to multiple groundwater agencies that must coordinate development of sustainability plans. In these basins, adoption of a similar accounting platform and data standards can facilitate more regional data sharing, integration, and compliance with SGMA.

Additionally, many landowners own property in multiple groundwater districts. Adoption of a common water accounting platform would make it easier for them to manage water budgets across districts, rather than having to navigate several different systems.

Importantly, some groundwater agencies have already started developing their own data management systems. We want to work with them to build tools that complement their efforts and also leverage lessons learned to help other agencies that are just getting started.

The partnership envisions building out the platform so that water managers can also use it as an optional tool to easily report water data to the state.

State water agencies, the CA Water Data Consortium and EDF are partnering to expand the features of the groundwater accounting platform co-developed by EDF. Share on X

3. A model for collaboration, innovation and engagement.

Transitioning to sustainable groundwater management is a major undertaking. It requires new ideas, innovation and many groups working together. Active engagement with water managers, landowners, and community-based organizations will be foundational in efforts to scale up the open-source water accounting platform to meet the needs of diverse users.

Collaboration can also spark more innovation and creativity in the future. To begin the engagement process, partners are hosting a virtual public workshop on the accounting platform and standards on June 23 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. PST. To participate in the workshop, register at www.eventbrite.com/e/public-workshop-water-accounting-and-data-for-sgma-tickets-154031419121.

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