Aquifers and Democracy: Enforcing Voter Equal Protection to Save California’s Imperiled Groundwater and Redeem Local Government
California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”) allows local entities that represent landowners, government agencies, or private companies, rather than the public, to take on exclusive power to regulate and manage imperiled groundwater resources. In at least some cases, under SGMA these entities are governed and controlled in ways that violate the one person, one vote requirement of the Equal Protection Clause, and even the rational basis requirement for local government representational structures. By establishing the state’s first comprehensive requirements for monitoring and managing groundwater, SGMA attempts to fill a critical gap in California water regulation, the consequences of which have culminated in a statewide crisis. This Note examines the ways in which SGMA implicates the Fourteenth Amendment, and, specifically, the requirements for proportional representation in local government that Avery v. Midland County and Board of Estimate v. Morris established. It argues that voter accountability and proportional representation in groundwater governance are important to actually achieving the ultimate goal of the legislation: effective management and regulation of imperiled common pool resources in California. It also contributes to solving a bigger problem. Special districts are the most numerous type of local government in the United States, with policy-making and administrative responsibility for vital environmental resources, infrastructure, and services. Enforcement of the one person, one vote requirement for the special districts responsible for California groundwater under SGMA would provide a powerful legal precedent for citizens seeking to promote democracy and equality in local government throughout the United States.