Fairness – or at least the perception of fairness – could play a determining role in the future of California’s groundwater, according to new research. The study, published in Society and Natural Resources, evaluated 137 surveys of Yolo County farmers to gauge their perceptions of fairness for groundwater allocation strategies and dispute resolution options. As required by the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in January of 2020, Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) of critically over-drafted water basins submitted plans to sustainably manage groundwater pumping and allow for basin recharge within the next 20 years. These plans, which inevitably include stricter allocation of groundwater and pumping limits, directly impact farmers of the nation’s largest agricultural state.
Below, the paper’s lead author, Courtney Hammond Wagner, and senior author, Meredith Niles, discuss their research examining what farmers identify as fair water allocation and how these perceptions can ultimately impact successful SGMA execution. Hammond Wagner is a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford’s Water in the West program, and Niles is an assistant professor at the University of Vermont.