California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“Act”) passed by the Legislature August 29, 2014 is composed of three separate bills: Senate Bill 1168 (Pavley), Senate Bill 1319 (Pavley), and Assembly Bill 1739 (Dickinson). The Act requires the designation of groundwater sustainability agencies (GSA) and the adoption of groundwater sustainability plans (GSP) for basins designated as medium- or high-priority by the Department of Water Resources (DWR). The GSP must set the basin on a course toward “sustainable management” and to return them to a condition that assures their long-term sustainability within twenty years of GSP implementation (Brownstein, 2014; CA OPR, 2014).
The Act fundamentally changes management of California’s groundwater basins and contains a number of requirements with the goal of achieving sustainable groundwater management in the areas of California that most need it. DBS&A’s water resource professionals have groundwater management planning expertise to assist communities with complying with the Act.
DBS&A can provide assistance to communities and agencies by:
- Conducting stakeholder and public outreach at the outset of the GSP implementation in medium- and high-priority basins
- Evaluating the feasibility of artificial recharge and conjunctive use projects as a component of GSP development and implementation
- Performing groundwater monitoring, data collection and data management needed to support GSP implementation in medium- and high-priority basins
- Preparing annual reports on progress towards sustainability for submittal to DWR following the submission of GSPs
- Providing assistance in developing technical information to support requests for basin boundary adjustments
- Providing expert services for water rights conflicts between senior and junior water rights holders that may lead to additional basin adjudication of medium- and high-priority basins
- Preparing annual extraction reports required for individual landowners that pump more than 2 acre-feet per year
The Act outlines deadlines for DWR, GSAs, and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). Some key deadlines identified in the Act are:
- January 31, 2015: DWR is required to complete its basin prioritization.
- June 30, 2017: GSA identified for all medium- and high-priority groundwater basins.
- January 31, 2020: GSAs for basins subject to critical overdraft conditions adopt GSP.
- January 31, 2022: GSAs for all medium- and high-priority basins adopt GSP.
- 20 years from GSP adoption: Medium- and high-priority basins achieve sustainability (CA OPR, 2014).
A detailed listing of the Act’s deadlines is shown here.
The GSP emergency regulations were developed through an extensive public engagement process that included a comprehensive, multi-phased outreach approach to: (1) educate the public about groundwater science and the regulatory requirements of SGMA; (2) better understand important regional and local issues; and (3) collect statewide information to assist with the development of GSP emergency regulations. The DWR’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Program held three required public meetings and a statewide webinar to solicit comment from local agencies, interested parties, and the general public on Draft GSP emergency regulations. The proposed GSP emergency regulations were presented to the California Water Commission on May 18, 2016, for consideration of approval. The California Water Commission unanimously approved the proposed regulations, as written, on May 18, 2016. Click here to read the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Emergency Regulations Guide.
Medium- and High-Priority Basins: The Act applies to basins or sub-basins that DWR designates as medium- or high-priority basins. Under the Act, DWR must rank each of the basins or sub-basins identified in its Bulletin 118 as very low-, low-, medium-, or high-priority basin based on the threat to the basin’s integrity. DWR is required to complete its ranking by January 31, 2015 (Brownstein, 2014).
Prioritization Factors: In establishing these rankings, DWR must consider many of the same factors considered in ranking basins under the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring (“CASGEM”) program finalized in May 2014. It is anticipated that DWR will maintain most of the basin’s prioritization rankings under CASGEM, although some rankings may change, based on the additional requirement that DWR also consider adverse impacts on local habitat and local stream flows (Brownstein, 2014).
The CASGEM prioritization rankings by hydrologic region are:
(CA DWR, 2014b. http://water.ca.gov/groundwater/casgem/basin_prioritization.cfm)
A map showing the prioritization of basins is shown here and the full list of CASGEM prioritization rankings is here.
Exempt Basins: The Act does not require the development of a GSP for adjudicated groundwater basins or basins that DWR ranks as low- or very low-priority basins. GSPs are voluntary for these basins. Adjudicated basins, however, are still required to comply with certain reporting requirements.
A list of adjudicated basins in California is here.
Groundwater Sustainability Agencies
Deadline for Designation of GSAs: The Act requires that a GSA be identified for all medium- and high-priority groundwater basins by June 30, 2017. Counties will be presumed to be the GSA for unmanaged basins.
The Act provides GSAs with tools and authority to:
- Conduct investigations of water rights;
- Require registration of groundwater wells;
- Require well-operators to measure and report extractions;
- Require reporting of diversions of surface water to storage;
- Regulate groundwater extractions, including limiting or prohibiting groundwater production;
- Impose fees and assessments;
- Request revisions of basin boundaries, including establishing new subbasins; and
- Undertake enforcement actions for noncompliance (Brownstein, 2014).
Groundwater Sustainability Plans
Deadline for Adoption of a GSP: The Act requires GSAs for all medium- and high-priority basins to adopt a GSP by January 31, 2022. For basins subject to critical overdraft conditions, the GSP must be adopted by January 31, 2020 (Brownstein, 2014).
GSP Requirements: The Act requires that GSPs include prescribed components to achieve sustainable groundwater management to avoid undesirable results, such as chronic depletion of groundwater, reduction of groundwater storage, water quality degradation, including from contaminant plumes or saltwater intrusion, surface water depletions, or subsidence.
GSPs must also include long-term planning goals, measurable objectives and interim milestones in increments of five years that are designed to achieve the basin’s sustainability goal within twenty years of GSP implementation. The Act provides a list of additional required components, many of which are similar to the current requirements for “AB 3030” or groundwater management plans. Present AB 3030 groundwater management plans in medium- and high-priority basins must be replaced or augmented to comply with the requirements for a GSP under the Act (Brownstein, 2014).
Each GSP must include requisite monitoring and management for the basin over a 50-year planning horizon, and GSPs must articulate measurable objectives to be achieved every five years (Brownstein, 2014).
DWR Review: Upon adoption of a GSP, the designated GSA must submit the GSP for DWR review.
The Act gives DWR until June 1, 2016 to develop regulations for evaluating GSPs. DWR will review the GSPs and will have the power to request changes to a submitted GSP (Brownstein, 2014). DWR will complete their evaluation of submitted GSPs within 2 years of submission (CA OPR, 2014).
After adoption of a GSP, the GSA must submit to DWR an annual compliance report containing basin groundwater data, including elevation, aggregate extraction, water usage and any changes in groundwater storage to monitor progress toward this sustainability goal (CA OPR, 2014).
DWR will review GSPs every five years to evaluate whether changes are needed in order to achieve sustainable groundwater management (CA OPR, 2014).
Click here for DBS&A SGMA brochure.
DBS&A Publications and Presentations
Cullen, S.J., G. Schnaar, and M. Cruikshank. 2016. Groundwater Planning and Estimating Safe Yield in California under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Hydrology and the Law, Law Seminars International, Santa Monica, California, September 16, 2016. Publication ID: 9513
Stephens, D.B. 2016. An Overview of the Statutory Structure of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Presented at the Science and Law of Water in California Conference in Santa Monica, California, September 17, 2015. Publication ID: 9533
Aquilogic. 2014. California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. http://www.aquilogic.com/pdf/CA%20SGMA%20Brochure.pdf
Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Shreck. 2014. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014. http://www.bhfs.com/portalresource/TOC
California Department of Water Resources. 2014a. Water Facts 3: Adjudicated Groundwater Basins. http://www.water.ca.gov/pubs/groundwater/adjudicated_ground_water_basins_in_california__water_facts_3_/water_fact_3_7.11.pdf
California Department of Water Resources. 2014b. CASGEM Basin Prioritization. http://water.ca.gov/groundwater/casgem/basin_prioritization.cfm
California Office of Public Relations. 2014. Water Action Plan: Improving Groundwater Management. http://opr.ca.gov/s_groundwater.php