Public Policy Institute of California

San Francisco, CA, United States

Public Policy Institute of California

San Francisco, CA, United States

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News Article | May 15, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

FILE - This Nov. 5, 1958 file photo shows Governor-elect Edmund G. "Pat" Brown holding up a newspaper proclaiming his victory in the race for California governor in San Francisco. Historical records reveal the late Brown misled voters about the cost of building the nation's tallest dam, ignored recommendations to delay construction and dismissed allegations that substandard materials were used to build the Oroville Dam project. (AP Photo, File) SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Historical records reveal the late Gov. Pat Brown misled voters about the cost of building the nation's tallest dam, ignored recommendations to delay construction and dismissed allegations that substandard materials were used to build the ambitious project. Sixty years before a damaged spillway at the Oroville Dam forced thousands of people to evacuate, Brown's administration overcame labor strikes, worker deaths and other scandals to get Oroville built on time, The Sacramento Bee (http://bit.ly/2rfvjJh) reports. Oroville Dam is one of the anchors of the state's water supply system. In February, two spillways at the 770-foot-tall dam began ripping away under unusually heavy rain and snowmelt, threatening to flood towns downstream. Nearly 200,000 people were given only an hour's notice to escape. The state got a handle on the crisis, and it is rushing to carry out hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs before the next rainy season. The Bee said it didn't find anything in the historical records that directly foreshadowed the spillway troubles. But experts believe the mess was caused at least in part by design and construction problems decades ago. "It may come back to engineering hubris, and engineering hubris inevitably comes back to bite us in the butt in California," said Jeffrey Mount, a geologist and water expert at the Public Policy Institute of California. Brown was bent on building a dam and the accompanying State Water Project to expand water deliveries to the parched southern half of California, state archives, oral history interviews and other documents reveal. He campaigned relentlessly and convinced the Legislature and then the voters to approve a $1.75 billion bond measure when the federal government couldn't help with funding. He later acknowledged in an interview for an oral history project at the University of California, Berkeley that he and his advisers realized the project's true cost was probably around $2.5 billion, but they weren't sure voters could handle such a number. He believed cost didn't really matter given what was at stake. When advisers urged him to postpone construction because of cost issues, he reasoned that delay would only lead to higher costs. "You need water. Whatever it costs, you have to have it," he told the Berkeley interviewers. The dam's construction took five years and was rife with problems. Local historians say 34 men died building the dam and the surrounding infrastructure, workers went on numerous strikes, and in 1964 at least three state workers were fired for buying land near the dam site knowing they'd profit when the state bought it. The biggest controversy came in 1964 when an Oroville newspaper published allegations that substandard materials were being used at the construction site. Brown called the story "irresponsible and erroneous." State officials later wrote a report that said there was no evidence that the dam "was designed or is being built in an unsafe manner." J. David Rogers, an engineering expert and dam historian at the Missouri University of Science & Technology, said the main spillway apparently didn't get the same level of attention as the main dam. Top engineers and consultants were brought in from all over the world to ensure the bedrock was strong enough to support the dam. The spillways, however, were built on much more weathered rock that easily crumbled this winter, Rogers said. After construction was completed in 1968, the dam and Lake Oroville played a critical role in California's booming economic and population growth. "No other state ever attempted anything like this," Rogers said. "It was larger than any federal dam when it was built. . It was the largest nonfederal public works project in world history. Nothing else out there was as big and as ambitious as the California Water Project." For his part, Brown saw the Oroville Dam and the water project as chances to leave his personal legacy. "I think it's a monument to me, and I'm very proud of it," he said.


Hanak E.,Public Policy Institute of California | Lund J.R.,University of California at Davis
Climatic Change | Year: 2012

California faces significant water management challenges from climate change, affecting water supply, aquatic ecosystems, and flood risks. Fortunately, the state also possesses adaptation tools and institutional capabilities that can limit vulnerability to changing conditions. Water supply managers have begun using underground storage, water transfers, conservation, recycling, and desalination to meet changing demands. These same tools are promising options for responding to a wide range of climate changes. Likewise, many staples of flood management-including reservoir operations, levees, bypasses, insurance, and land-use regulation-are available for the challenges of increased floods. Yet actions are also needed to improve response capacity. For water supply, a central issue is the management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where new conveyance, habitat investments, and regulations are needed to sustain water supplies and protect endangered fish species. For flood management, among the least-examined aspects of water management with climate change, needed reforms include forward-looking reservoir operation planning and floodplain mapping, less restrictive rules for raising local funds, and improved public information on flood risks. For water quality, an urgent priority is better science. Although local agencies are central players, adaptation will require strong-willed state leadership to shape institutions, incentives, and regulations capable of responding to change. Federal cooperation often will be essential. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.


Bedsworth L.W.,Governors Office of Planning and Research | Hanak E.,Public Policy Institute of California
Global Environmental Change | Year: 2013

Local governments in the United States have been hotbeds of climate change activity. Recently, states have sought to incorporate these primarily voluntary actions into broader climate change mitigation programs. Using the example of California, a national leader in U.S. climate policy, this article examines the scope for effectiveness of local climate action and assesses factors related to adoption of local climate policies. The analysis draws on two original surveys of city and county governments, designed to learn about adoption of comprehensive policy tools (emission inventories and climate action plans) and programs in specific areas (energy, water, land use, transportation). Adoption rates are fairly high and growing; by mid 2010 roughly 70% of all jurisdictions were already engaged or planning to engage in comprehensive climate actions, up from roughly 50% in 2008. The adoption of specific programs varies with the degree of local government authority in different sectors, and is generally higher for programs targeting municipal facilities and operations than those targeting residents and businesses. Population size, household income, and strong support from local leaders and the public are all associated with higher rates of adoption, particularly for comprehensive actions. Partisan attitudes are more important for comprehensive actions than for programs in specific areas such as energy efficiency and renewable energy, mirroring the findings of state and national public opinion surveys, which find broader support for actions like clean energy than for explicit climate change-oriented actions. Qualitative analysis reveals additional keys to success, including partnering with other local governments and private organizations and leveraging cost savings and other potential co-benefits of action. As states move to incorporate local actions into broader plans, mandates will also play an increasing role in setting a floor for local efforts. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


News Article | February 25, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

FILE - In this Feb. 15, 2017, file photo, a load of rocks is dropped to patch a crater as repairs are made on the Tyler Island levee near Isleton, Calif. Billions of dollars of flood projects in the past two decades have eased fears of levee breaks in Sacramento and other Central Valley cities. But flood experts say levees protecting farms and farm towns also need billions of dollars in maintenance and upgrades. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file) SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Billions of dollars in flood projects have eased fears of levee breaks near California's capital and some other cities, but state and federal workers are joining farmers with tractors in round-the-clock battles this week to stave off any chain-reaction failure of rural levees protecting farms and farm towns. As the wet winter forces operators of dams to send more water roaring downstream, the struggle to spot and shore up weak spots in nearly 1,600 miles of levees in the Central Valley is unrelenting, said Rex Osborn, spokesman for emergency operations in San Joaquin County, one of the nation's main farm and dairy counties. Hundreds of workers with the state conservation corps, engineers, water experts, emergency-management officials and others were scrambling again Thursday to lay down more rock and earth on levees where flood water was threatening to burst through saturated berms. "There's a flood fight taking place at a dozen different places right now," Osborn said about the levees in his county. "If they just hold and do their job," Osborn said. "But if one thing throws it off ..." Once the waters ease sometime this summer, California lawmakers will look at releasing $500 million to patch and upgrade the state's strained flood control system. But Jeffrey Mount, a flood-control expert and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California think tank, and other experts say Central Valley levees alone need billions of dollars in work. Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday asked state lawmakers to quickly approve $387 million to speed up flood control projects in the Central Valley, using money from a water bond approved by voters in 2014. He said the state has nearly $50 billion in unmet needs for flood-management infrastructure. "What's required is to take some immediate action and then over the longer term we have to invest billions of dollars in California infrastructure," said Brown, a Democrat. "We've got to belly up to the bar and start spending money." Northern California has received more than twice the normal amount of rain and snow this winter, breaking five years of drought. Full rivers and water surging from dam spillways are pouring water into the Central Valley, a 450-mile-long depression running north and south through the heart of California. The region absorbs runoff from coastal mountains and the Sierra Nevada. Winter rains used to turn the Central Valley into an inland sea hundreds of miles wide each rainy season. The capital, Sacramento, flooded regularly, forcing one governor, Leland Stanford, to row a boat to his 1862 inauguration, according to state lore. As recently as 1997, Central Valley levee breaks flooded hundreds of square miles and caused billions of dollars in property damage. Nine people died in floods that winter. Massive spending since then, including a $5 billion bond issue approved by state voters, has strengthened the system of levees, wetlands and weirs that protect the nearly 500,000 residents of Sacramento, along with the people in most of the smaller vulnerable cities elsewhere in the Central Valley. So far, thanks partly to California's flood-control efforts and partly to the luck of breaks between storms, experts said, the Central Valley has been spared from major levee breaks this time around. Flooding that forced thousands from San Jose this week came from an overfull reservoir that caused a creek to top its banks, not from a levee break. "If the system hadn't been here, all the major cities would have been under water" this winter, said Joe Countryman, a flood-prevention veteran on the Central Valley's flood-control board. "I can tell you that for sure." In rural areas, farmers and others who own and primarily benefit from the levees are expected to maintain them and be the first responders when trouble strikes. Fewer than half of the 1,600 miles of Central Valley levees qualify for repairs through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose standards limit, for example, any trees along riverside levees. Along the San Joaquin River, farmers rolled out in tractors and other heavy equipment, working through the night, earlier this week when they noticed a 30-foot break in a levee after a filling dam upstream had to release more water, alfalfa grower Tom Coit said.


News Article | January 28, 2016
Site: techcrunch.com

“Every season since the Gold Rush, California has blossomed with new money — first in gold, then in land, cattle, railroads, agriculture, film images, shipbuilding, aerospace, electronics, television and commercial religions. The ease with which the happy few become suddenly rich lends credence to the belief in magical transformation.” — Lewis Lapham, 1979, “Lost Horizon” “When do you think people in the Bay Area started to realize that you could make more money from tech than from real estate?” Jed Kolko asked me. We were sitting at Ma-velous, a coffee shop frequented by San Francisco’s political movers two blocks from City Hall and kitty corner from Twitter’s headquarters in the Shorenstein-owned former San Francisco Furniture Mart. Just outside the window was Market Street, San Francisco’s main thoroughfare. In 1847, two years before the Gold Rush transformed the city into a teeming boomtown, a 30-year-old Irish immigrant named Jasper O’Farrell presciently surveyed the street to be 120 feet wide  — which is broader than the Philadelphia main street it was named after  — even though the city was only 500 residents strong at the time. “1980s,” I said in response to his question. Seemed obvious. The PC revolution. Steve Jobs and Apple. And a decade after the Peninsula was christened “Silicon Valley” by an electronics trade newsletter and the “Fairchildren,” or alumni of Fairchild Semiconductor, went on to found Intel, National Semiconductor and AMD. 2005 was his guess. The year after Google IPO-ed, and when escalating home prices made real estate an ever-riskier bet. That was the year that he felt that more people started coming to San Francisco for professional ambition rather than lifestyle reasons such as being openly gay or for pursuing callings that didn’t need to be so well-compensated. Like a handful of other people at the intersection of real estate and technology, Kolko would be in a position to make an educated stab. He led some research at the well-regarded nonprofit, non-partisan think tank Public Policy Institute of California for five years, and then was the head economist at real estate startup Trulia. It was a provocative rhetorical question. Land, labor, capital. Technological change. How do they intersect? In some ways, we’re lucky that the first two decades involving the advent of the commercial Internet were largely a positive-sum game. The creation of digital space for self-expression, at near-zero cost, does not necessarily challenge or erode someone else’s right to space or resources. That makes it easy to forget that California is a state built throughout generations of conflict over land and its inherent constraints. It is this oldest of resources  — not capital or human talent or ingenuity  — that most constrains the region’s potential for workers at all income levels. Cities, or physical communities, are one of the hardest kinds of scaling problems that exist. The infrastructure needed to sustain bigger networks, such as schools, sewers and mass transit, gets harder  — not easier —  to develop, finance and maintain the larger your population becomes. There are countless constituencies of different incomes, racial groups, interests and professions that are all vying with each other for limited space. Although it’s possible to build up, urban development is much more of a zero-sum game. With every major economic shift ,  from an agrarian to an industrial economy, and then an industrial to a knowledge-and-services economy , California and the United States have faced distinctive junctures in their approach to land-use and housing. I believe we’re hitting another major juncture, although I don’t know when it will deteriorate to the point that it forces real reform. California’s fragmented, post-war suburban model, which was created for a more even wage distribution in a mass industrial economy, is clearly becoming more dysfunctional by the year for a knowledge-and-services economy with a wider level of income stratification. Not only are we not building enough housing overall, we have scarce sources of funding for supporting those on the lower-earning ends of a rapidly widening income spectrum. So we end up politicizing and extracting funds out of new construction even though we are 40 years deep into a largely self-imposed housing shortage. There are a couple of disturbing trends showing up in the data. If you look across the state’s workforce, Californians born in 1990 are on average spending 50 percent of their income on housing. That’s way above the 30-percent-of-income level that is generally considered to be the threshold of whether housing is affordable or not in public policy conversations. Then, if you look at working-class segments, commutes are rapidly rising for the lower-income workers in the region: This is troubling because commute time is one of the strongest predictive factors in determining a child’s chances of climbing from the lowest income quintile to the highest-earning one. That morning and evening time between parents and children that is taken up by commuting is invaluable for bonding and child development. Cities around the Bay Area are starting to contort themselves into stranger and stranger positions just to support basic public services. Suburbs like Cupertino, where Apple is headquartered, are now having to build teacher public housing projects for tens of millions of dollars because the cost of living is too high for an entry-level teacher making $55,000 a year. Meanwhile, the city has approved another Apple campus that will bring 13,000 additional Apple employees to the city, while only committing to building 1,400 housing units over the next seven years. I’m not sure when a breaking point happens, but I want to offer some essays and short pieces over the next few days to give you a couple of takeaways. The TL;DR is that I’m going to start working on new projects soon, but I want to leave a map behind of what I think has to be done long-term in Northern California. Here are the additional pieces (and I’ll be posting more in the days to come): California has faced housing and land shortages multiple times and has changed its regulatory regimes in response. I’m going to start with two histories from the state’s first Gilded Age and post-war era. In the first Gilded Age, the concern was over land monopolization by a handful of large-scale owners and how that crowded out and impoverished labor. In the postwar period, California leveraged the automobile and federal subsidies to unlock previously inaccessible land and create a golden age of cheap housing and suburbanization. This boom period ended in the 1970s as the state’s flat, developable coastal lands were built out and the oil crisis made sprawl more expensive. That’s when housing shifted from being perceived as a consumable good to an investable asset. Since then, a new generational land cartel has emerged with Californian Baby Boomers protecting entitlements and higher property values for themselves in the form of land-use restrictions and Proposition 13. Global capital has been subverting and taking advantage of these favorable legal and taxation protections on real estate in a extremely low interest-rate world. All of this has come at the cost of the state’s working and middle class and its future workforce. It faces major cities in all economies that chose a housing-as-an-investable-asset model following World War II like the U.K. and Australia. After the credit-fueled housing crises of the 2000s tested the upper bound of what the homeownership rate could be, many countries are grappling with lower homeownership rates for the foreseeable future. This raises questions about what the future balance of tenant and homeowner rights and subsidies should look like. There are alternate approaches in industrialized countries like Germany and Japan that make housing more of a consumable good rather than an appreciable asset, but it’s hard to see how we could ever shift toward those models since there is so much national wealth tied up in housing. There is no “magical transformation” here (unless VR and telepresence renders location obsolete, which the Internet certainly didn’t do). Technology companies and political leaders completely underestimate the depth of reform that’s needed to actually solve housing affordability. Right now, San Francisco and New York City are reliant on inclusionary zoning, which effectively taxes the production of new housing in order to finance subsidized, affordable housing. It’s a Band-Aid solution that lets everyone stay in a system structured to keep property values higher (e.g. making housing less affordable) while providing a teeny-tiny, token amount of low-income housing. For example, inclusionary housing has produced 1,787 below-market-rate units and $59 million in affordable housing fees in San Francisco since 1993. Meanwhile, the value of the city’s assessed property rose by $11 billion in the last year. We need to capture more of the land value increases that property owners are accruing through no particular special effort of their own, perhaps in the form of a deferred transfer tax at sale. Unfortunately, most jurisdictions in the state are designed to be majority homeowner, and the state’s Third Rail, Proposition 13, hasn’t been touched since the late 1970s. It’s hard to see a political constituency that could change this unless it gets really bad. That said, California’s homeownership rate is the lowest it’s been since 1991 and has dropped a full 6 percentage points since the financial crisis to 54.2 percent. Maybe we just have to wait another 10 to 15 years until the composition of the electorate changes enough for reform. While the technology industry and its compensation practices have increased the region’s income inequality over the last generation, taxing businesses, wealth or investments alone for affordable housing funds won’t solve the housing issue. Dumping hundreds of millions of dollars of public or philanthropic capital down a badly designed property system will not get you very far because it will drive land values even higher, producing an unearned windfall for property owners. For San Francisco to build affordable housing in the Mission District today, private land owners are demanding $250,000 per housing unit in just land costs from the San Francisco city government because they can. The Latino community fought and used the threat of a moratorium on new housing construction to wrestle $50 million out of the $310 million bond that voters approved last fall. It was the first affordable housing bond the city had passed in almost 20 years. But then the Mission community realized that $50 million gets you — drum roll — three plots of land! Keep in mind that California also already has the most progressive income taxation system of any state in the U.S. because it also has some of the lowest property tax rates, especially on properties worth more than $1 million. The downside of being extremely reliant on income and capital gains taxes and having low property taxes is that the California state government’s revenue structure is highly volatile and predictably goes into steep deficits during recessions. So while you could go down this route — and there are interesting conversations about progressive equity, tech executive compensation and carried-interest loopholes — you’d have to do it in addition to land-use and property taxation reform to have any real impact on housing affordability. An economic downturn may soften pressure on local housing markets, but it will not fix this problem. The Bay Area’s housing market tends to rise and then plateau; this is a function of how local land markets work. Even though developers tend to get pilloried in the public process, it is the land owners that get egged on by local brokers to sell at the absolute highest price. Because there is no structural disincentive to sitting on underutilized land because of property tax caps, land owners can just sit a weak cycle out, withhold their land from the market and wait for the next upswing. While there are quasi-public institutions that sustain mortgage and home-buying demand through weak parts of the economic cycle, there isn’t really an equivalent on the construction financing side. When markets turned in 2008, project financing evaporated, which left the city without a decent construction pipeline until it was too late in the up-cycle. The same thing may happen in the next downturn. If the tech industry wants a faster solution than waiting for several decades of reform, it could decentralize and encourage more viable tech hubs elsewhere. When Detroit’s automobile industry was around the same age that Silicon Valley is today, it began decentralizing production in the 1940s, decades before the 1967 race riots and competition from Asian automakers. However, even if tech decentralizes a little bit, the state’s working- and middle-class are still screwed because these are issues that are deeply rooted in California’s approach to land-use and property taxation that stretch back decades. They’re visible all over the state well outside of Silicon Valley.


Hanak E.,Public Policy Institute of California | Moreno G.,Analysis Group
Climatic Change | Year: 2012

With over 2,000 miles (3,218 km) of ocean and estuarine coastline, California faces significant coastal management challenges as a result of climate change-induced sea level rise. Under high emission scenarios, recent models predict 1. 4 m or more of sea level rise by 2100, accompanied by increasing storm surges. This article investigates the most important issues facing coastal managers, explores the policy tools available for adapting to the impacts of climate change, assesses institutional constraints to adaptation, and identifies priorities for future research and policy action. We find that adaptation tools exist for dealing with anticipated increases in coastal erosion and flooding, but they involve significant costs and tradeoffs. In particular, coastal armoring, such as seawalls, can protect developed coastal lands, but destroys beaches and habitat. Although California already has policies and institutions that aim to balance the competing objectives for coastal development, management agencies are at the early stages of understanding how to facilitate adaptation. Research priorities to inform coastal adaptation planning include: (i) inventorying coastal resources to provide a firmer basis for balancing decisions on property and habitat protection, (ii) identifying opportunities for coastal habitat migration, (iii) assessing the vulnerabilities of existing and planned coastal infrastructure, and (iv) experimenting with alternatives to armoring as a way of managing the changing coastline. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.


Lee H.,Public Policy Institute of California
Social Science and Medicine | Year: 2012

In recent years, research and public policy attention has increasingly focused on understanding whether modifiable aspects of the local food environment - the types and composition of food outlets families have proximate access to - are drivers of and potential solutions to the problem of childhood obesity in the United States. Given that much of the earlier published research has documented greater concentrations of fast-food outlets alongside limited access to large grocery stores in neighborhoods with higher shares of racial/ethnic minority groups and residents living in poverty, differences in retail food contexts may indeed exacerbate notable child obesity disparities along socioeconomic and racial/ethnic lines. This paper examines whether the lack of access to more healthy food retailers and/or the greater availability of " unhealthy" food purveyors in residential neighborhoods explains children's risk of excessive weight gain, and whether differential food availability explains obesity disparities. I do so by analyzing a national survey of U.S. children followed over elementary school (Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten Cohort) who are linked to detailed, longitudinal food availability measures from a comprehensive business establishment database (the National Establishment Time Series). I find that children who live in residentially poor and minority neighborhoods are indeed more likely to have greater access to fast-food outlets and convenience stores. However, these neighborhoods also have greater access to other food establishments that have not been linked to increased obesity risk, including large-scale grocery stores. When examined in a multi-level modeling framework, differential exposure to food outlets does not independently explain weight gain over time in this sample of elementary school-aged children. Variation in residential food outlet availability also does not explain socioeconomic and racial/ethnic differences. It may thus be important to reconsider whether food access is, in all settings, a salient factor in understanding obesity risk among young children. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.


Kolko J.,Public Policy Institute of California
Information Economics and Policy | Year: 2010

Using longitudinal panel data on Internet subscriptions and online and offline activities, I assess how broadband adoption affects behavior. Consistent with previous research, this study finds that broadband adopters increase their overall Internet usage. However, broadband adoption is associated with an increase in relatively few specific applications, like downloading music and online purchasing. Among "socially desirable" activities that governments seek to increase by encouraging broadband adoption, only researching health information rises among broadband adopters. Usage of job and career websites and usage of government sites does not rise as people move from dial-up to broadband. Among offline activities, broadband adoption lowers time spent playing video games but has no statistically significant effect on other activities like reading magazines and watching TV. OLS with person-level fixed effects and the difference-in-differences matching estimator yield similar findings. The results are somewhat sensitive to the time period studied, which could indicate that adopters at different stages of the technology's diffusion respond differently to broadband adoption; it could also reflect the rapid changes in online activities and broadband technology. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Kolko J.,Public Policy Institute of California
Telecommunications Policy | Year: 2010

The only comprehensive published indicator of residential broadband availability in the US is number of providers in each ZIP code, as reported by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This measure has been widely used in academic and policy research to assess availability and to identify under-served areas, but it is acknowledged to be flawed and is often misinterpreted. This paper develops an alternative measure of residential broadband availability. Using the December 2005 FCC data and individual broadband adoption data from Forrester Research, the paper estimates a relationship between the number of providers in a ZIP code and the level of residential broadband availability in the ZIP code. Broadband is estimated to be available to 53% of households in ZIP codes with 1-3 providers, rising to 100% in ZIP codes with 14 or more providers. Aggregating these estimates at the national level implies that broadband was available to 85% of households in December 2005. Availability was highest in southern and western metropolitan areas like Miami and San Jose. Using these estimates of availability, population density and average income both have positive and highly statistically significant effects on broadband supply. The results provide a user-friendly tool to help policymakers assess broadband availability. The estimates are also useful for future research about the effects of broadband availability. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


A NASA report released Wednesday found that land in one of California’s most productive agricultural regions continues to subside rapidly because of heavy groundwater pumping. For decades, and especially during the last five years of drought, growers have relied on pumping water from the ground when surface water wasn’t available. A 2015 report found that the San Joaquin Valley experienced record rates of ground sinkage due to pumping. Now, according to NASA’s new report, it’s gotten worse in some areas. While the state’s surface water drought is fading, with precipitation over 200 percent of normal for this time of year in some places, the recent years of low rain will have lasting effects. Ground sink can trigger a vicious cycle of other problems by changing stream flows and causing water infrastructure damage. Until recently, groundwater pumping was largely unregulated in California. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, requiring local agencies to devise management plans to monitor pumping. That’s starting to happen, but it’s not an easy task. “[W]e’ve been living off borrowed water,” Jeffrey Mount of the Public Policy Institute of California said recently. “No one has a clear vision for how to do this. We only know that we have to.”

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