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Groundwater Banking in California - A Forward-Thinking Concept for Germany?

Omid Bechmann - Leipzig University, Prof. K. Faßbender

Since the drought summers of 2018 and 2020, quantitative groundwater management has increasingly come into focus in legal discussions. The low levels caused by these droughts raised questions about the effectiveness and enforceability of groundwater protection and target regulations, whose achievement is further complicated by the consequences of climate change. After an in-depth analysis of the challenges of successful groundwater management under conditions of climate change, this work examines the water law approach to quantitative groundwater protection, before broadening its focus to understand successful groundwater management as a cross-sectional task. Selected reference areas such as soil protection or nature conservation law are examined for their supportive management potentials. It becomes clear that groundwater protection in Germany has so far mainly focused on resource management, while increasing resource availability has not played a significant role. Concepts such as sponge cities or water storage on a large scale have so far had no significant real effects. In a comparative legal step, the Californian management instrument of Groundwater Banking is therefore examined for its feasibility under German law: Banks are formed to introduce water into selected groundwater bodies at the direction of their customers. Storage corresponds to a withdrawal right in case of need, albeit coupled with an obligation to provide compensation. The advantages of this market-based instrument lie in its activation of private individuals regarding water storage and the possibility of strengthening the water law compensation principle. The legal reception of both aspects shows promising potential on the path to sustainable quantitative groundwater management.