The fountain at Ken Genser Square in front of City Hall reflects the sunset. (File photo)

The City of Santa Monica has temporarily outlawed construction of new private wells in the city while staff work towards adoption of a new set of rules governing the use of groundwater.

Council approved a measure banning new construction or expansion of existing wells at their August 14 meeting until the City adopts a comprehensive groundwater management plan that specifically allows such construction.

A Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) is required by California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and Santa Monica is in the midst of drafting the rules in partnership with City of Culver City, City of Beverly Hills, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the County of Los Angeles.

“In order to protect the city’s main water supply from overdraft, pollution, and contamination, the proposed ordinance would prohibit the installation of new private wells or the expansion of existing wells until two criteria are met,” said Sustainability Administrator Shannon Parry. “The first is a groundwater sustainability plan as adopted, and the second is that the construction of new wells, or the expansion of existing wells is expressly authorized in the groundwater sustainability plan.”

According to City Staff, well construction was handled by the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health’s Environmental Health Division prior to the new moratorium. No rules were in place to prohibit private or commercial wells and once built there is no limit on the amount of water a private well can consume.

While staff only know of one private residential well in the City, they said unregulated construction in the future could jeopardize the city’s ability meet the needs of all residents if the wells lowered the overall amount of water available. They are also concerned that unregulated private wells would make it impossible for Santa Monica to become water self-sufficient.

Mark Gold, chair of Santa Monica’s Task Force on the Environment, asked Council to go a step further and make the ban permeant because he said the aquifer belongs all residents and the City and it really shouldn’t be allowed for private use at all.

“As you will see next month, Santa Monica has tremendous challenges in meeting the self-sufficiency goals that this council has laid out for them,” he said. “Any private pumping of Santa Monica’s precious groundwater resources will make compliance with the self-sufficiency goal that much harder. Although there aren’t many Santa Monica users right now of our local aquifers, the demand for this resource could grow tremendously over time, as we are seeing the availability of imported water from metropolitan water district is under increasing pressure, as we’ve seen from the State Water Resources Control Board’s reduction and requirement.”

He said private pumping is common outside the city and he said local golf courses are a good example of the kind of private use he’d like to see banned.

Some councilmembers appeared open to discussion a more restrictive ban.

“Well Dr. Gold talked about this being groundbreaking and I appreciate the irony of our taking groundbreaking action, to prohibit breaking ground to dig a new well,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown. “I am not sure that making this permanent is what staff intended, so I’d like to find out from staff how they would feel about dropping that clause, if that removes some flexibility you anticipated needing or some legal coverage we needed until we have a plan in place.”

Council ultimately kept the caveats in the ordinance that could allow private wells in the future after hearing from staff that an outright ban would be less legally sound.

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...