Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New California Groundwater Law

Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”)

As of January 1, 2015, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”), an ambitious attempt that Governor Jerry Brown signed last September in order to regulate the use of groundwater on a more universal scale, has now gone into effect.   

Local Control

In enacting the SGMA, the California legislature sought to “manage groundwater basins through the actions of local governmental agencies to the greatest extent feasible.”   For the most part, any local agency with water supply, water management or land use responsibilities in a given groundwater basin (or a combination of such agencies) can become the groundwater sustainability agency for that basin.
The SGMA gives sustainability agencies a number of powers and authorities in addition to those they already may possess. Agencies are authorized, among other things, to conduct investigations; require registration of facilities that extract groundwater; require said facilities to measure the amount of water they extract; acquire property including water rights; regulate, limit or allocate groundwater extraction; and authorize transfers of groundwater allocations.  They also have the power to “impose fees, including . . . permit fees and fees on groundwater extraction” to support their activities, and to bring enforcement actions seeking civil penalties for violations relating to rules implemented pursuant to the SGMA. 
The SGMA’s use of local planning and management – as opposed to purely centralized state control – is intended to provide valuable opportunities for informed and proactive water users to have a say in groundwater sustainability planning from the start.
State Oversight and Intervention
While the SGMA generally emphasizes local management of groundwater resources, it does provide for state involvement on a number of levels. For example, DWR must develop and publish best management practices for sustainable groundwater management, and it is responsible for reviewing sustainability plans every five years to ensure compliance with the SGMA.   In addition, the State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB” or “State Board”) can “designate a basin as a probationary basin” for failure to develop a groundwater sustainability plan where one is needed, or for implementation of an insufficient plan.  If a local agency fails to remedy the problem that led to a designation, the State Board may adopt its own interim sustainability plan for the basin.
DWR is also tasked with establishing the initial priority for the state’s groundwater basins, a job of considerable consequence given that many of the SGMA’s requirements apply only to those basins designated as high or medium priority.  DWR has announced that the basin designations it finalized under the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring program will serve as the initial prioritization required by the SGMA. [More at Marten Law]

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