Groundwater trading program, first of its kind for Central Valley, is being designed

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — In a first for Kern County and the Central Valley, a groundwater trading program is being designed to help local growers meet new regulations under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act — which kicks in next year.

The Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District is working with the Environmental Defense Fund to develop a web-based platform growers can use to sell or buy units of groundwater.

New state regulations take effect in 2020 that essentially prohibit water districts in California from taking more water out of the ground than they can put back in on an annual basis.

As groundwater use is restricted, growers may decided to fallow cropland and instead sell their groundwater allocations to other growers.

“So this platform allows them to put that block of water into the market and make it available to someone who may have a shortage, so it’s really just a way of connecting buyers and sellers,” said Eric Averett, general manager of Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District.

“Think of it as a Craigslist for water,” he said.

Averett said groundwater trading is just one of a dozen tools it is offering landowners in the district to mitigate impacts from new water use restrictions.

“We have to limit the amount of groundwater we pump collectively so we’re not abusing the resource or pumping more than is available,” he said. “And that’s the essence of SGM…balancing the water budget, and the water budget is predicated on the amount of groundwater we have available.”

The water trading program is patterned after a similar groundwater marketing program used nationwide in Australia — but on a much smaller scale.

Averett expects the pilot project to go online in September.

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