- Aquifers are a whole lot more than groundwater. Aquifers are composed of many kinds of different resources, including storage space, geothermal energy, surface interactions, and various minerals. However, unlike these resources, groundwater is treated as something different. The transition from groundwater management to groundwater governance expanded the role of social engagement with agencies and institutions regulating groundwater. There is an emerging need to move from groundwater governance into aquifer governance.
The transition requires a reevaluation of the public-private dichotomy in aquifers, as aquifer pore spaces may likely be private property, while groundwater is often publicly owned. The top-down regulatory model may not be adequate to deal with the complex and mysterious aquifer system. A middle path could be used that combines public and private rights: collective governance. No examples of collective aquifer governance exist. However, unitization contracts used in the oil and gas industry can provide a robust model of collectively governing subsurface resources, including incorporating the complex dynamics of subsurface systems.
This paper explores the implications of the transition to aquifer governance, including a review of case studies showing a distinct direction in governance development. Unitization contracts are introduced, translated into the aquifer context, and applied to an example basin: the Harney Valley of Oregon.