Maybe NASA could take on CA water metering?

What’s more challenging - putting men on the moon or metering water in California?



The reaction to the passage this summer of “landmark” groundwater legislation by the California Assembly is overly optimistic, and to burnish my point, I’d point the reader to the Pacific Institute’s September 2014 paper on the recent history of California water metering:

“The California legislature has recognized the importance of metering and has passed several bills requiring meters in California. In 1991, the legislature passed SB 229, requiring meters on new connections after 1992. The legislation, however, did not require utilities to actually read the meters or to use that data to bill customers by volume. In 2003, AB 514 required Central Valley Project water users to be fully metered by 2013 and start charging metered users volumetrically by 2010. Then in 2004, AB 2572 (Kehoe) closed the loophole in SB 229 by requiring urban water utilities to meter all municipal and industrial users by 2025 and charge metered customers based on the actual volume of water delivered.”

“Did not require utilities to actually read the meters”? Hey, California - sometimes you reap what you sow.

The Pacific Institute’s paper notes that the 1991 legislation covers only urban water users, who consume about 25% of the state’s water. You can figure out who consumes the rest.

It took legislation passed in 1991 22 years to actually be implemented, not including municipal or industrial users, for whom that time span, according to the Pacific Institute’s work, will not have teeth until 2025, or 34 years.

National Geographic on the recent groundwater legislation:

“But the new laws give local agencies five to seven years to develop those groundwater plans, and until 2040 to implement them.”

Apparently, it is about four times more challenging to come up with and implement a policy regarding groundwater pumping than it is to get a man on the moon. In California, 26 years sounds about right, but of course, there may be no groundwater left to manage by then. If there is, let’s hope the plans for doing so include the requirement that meters are read and users pay.

Posted by John Bass on 15 Oct 2014 | Comments (2)


Wicked problems are always more difficult than tame ones, even when the tame ones (putting a man on the moon) are really really hard. In a tame problem, we can all agree on the objective, and a measure of success or failure. Did we get the people to the moon? Did we get them back safely? Groundwater management is classically wicked. What, exactly, is it that we’re trying to accomplish? How will we measure success?

John Fleck, I do entirely agree with you about the difficulty of this problem and its difference from putting men on moon or building a dam, etc.

Nevertheless, I still want leaders/lawyers/courts to deal with this particular wicked problem with greater urgency since the current practice (and its extensions 26 years into the future) is both obviously unsustainable and will increasingly hurt the poor and be paid for by the larger public.

In your reporting you have noted what’s happened to Porterville’s water supply, for example.

Anyway, what should be accomplished? At minimum, is it to much to ask that the new regulatory framework include two things: to have completed a statewide program to “install meters” and to “read meters” in one year on everyone - Delta landowners included?

That can’t be too big a part of this particular wicked problem, can it?

modified, Oct. 21

Add a comment

  1. Please enter the word you see in the image below:
  2. Remember my personal information

  3. Notify me of follow-up comments?