But with the water falling another 12 feet since, Ms. Seals said the couple might have to dig a new $30,000 well as soon as next year.
"And how long that will last nobody knows," said Ms. Seals, 61 years old, a retired graphic designer.
The Seals's four-bedroom home is one of hundreds in northern San Luis Obispo County facing declining reserves of underground water amid one of California's worst droughts on record. With groundwater levels falling across the Golden State—causing dried-up wells, sinking roadbeds and crumbling infrastructure—the state legislature is considering regulating underground water for the first time.
Californians have long battled over rights to rivers, lakes and other surface-water supplies, but the drought is finally shifting the focus to groundwater, which accounts for about 40% of water used in normal years—and up to 60% in drought years, as other sources dry up.
"Groundwater was kind of out of sight, out of mind," said Lester Snow, executive director of the California Water Foundation, a nonprofit policy group in Sacramento, and former director of the state Department of Water Resources.
Other states were forced to act earlier. Arizona, for example, began regulating its major groundwater basins in 1980 after experiencing subsidence, or sinking soils from lack of water, and other problems from agriculture pumping, said Michael Lacey, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. "Had we done nothing, many of the areas would have no supplies left," Mr. Lacey said.
California is grappling with its three-year drought on a number of fronts. On Aug. 13, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed bipartisan legislation putting a $7.5 billion bond measure for water projects on the November ballot. In July, the state ordered the first mandatory statewide water restrictions on urban water use, such as lawn watering, with fines up to $500.
Groundwater remains there for the taking—except in places such as Orange County with special management districts. The Department of Water Resources said earlier this year that groundwater tables in some parts of California have dropped 100 feet or more below historic averages. That has resulted in an estimated $1.3 billion in damage to infrastructure, such as cracked highways due to subsidence, Mr. Snow said.
A bill pending in the Legislature would require that groundwater be managed sustainably at major aquifers throughout the state, such as by authorizing local agencies to impose pumping limits and conduct inspections.
"We can't continue to pump groundwater at the rates we are and expect it to continue in the future," said Mary Scruggs, supervising engineering geologist with the Department of Water Resources. The Legislature has until Sunday to take action before it adjourns for the year.Read more...
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