Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism

Department or School/College


Committee Chair

Dennis Swibold

Commitee Members

Keith Graham, Brian Chaffin


California, groundwater, pump, SGMA, sustainable, agriculture


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Journalism Studies


This long-form feature story examines how the nascence of California’s new era of groundwater regulation is playing out for the farmers, families and agencies who must adapt to a sweeping new law against the backdrop of climate change.

California became the last state in the west to adopt a statewide management plan for the invaluable natural resource when it first embarked on a path toward groundwater sustainability in 2020. Known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), the 20-year plan requires California’s most depleted groundwater basins to become sustainable by 2040.

When SGMA matured in 2020, California’s next drought began the same year. Groundwater use represents about 40% of statewide water consumption during normal years and ascends to 60% during drought. While dry spells are a normal feature of California’s climate, drought cycles are becoming more frequent, longer and severe. The demand for groundwater increased over the years while recharge dwindled, creating a time where both the need for and strain upon groundwater has never been more poignant. The drought that began in 2020 has since hit record breaking levels of heat and dryness. Groundwater use in many parts of the state will be slashed over the next 20 years to preserve the resource for the future, as well as halt harmful consequences to drinking water, wildlife and the environment. The region that will feel these changes most is California’s Central Valley – a relatively small area that grows food for the entire world while also experiencing the state’s worst drought conditions. Just two years into the two decade journey toward sustainability, SGMA is already causing Valley residents who hold groundwater precious to worry about the future of their economy, land and livelihood.

This story relays the hopes, fears and experiences of those who are feeling the impacts of SGMA and climate change. It is told through the lens of those who are working to steward groundwater sustainability into the best possible future for all stakeholders. The narrative explores the concerns the act both addresses and raises, possible equity issues arising from the act’s implementation and opportunities for solutions. It is a snapshot into the early days of California’s new era of groundwater regulation.



© Copyright 2022 Abigail Jean Lauten-Scrivner