Thursday, April 28, 2016
California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
The California Department of Water Resources recently wrapped up the public comment period for its draft regulations on Groundwater Sustainability Plans under the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”). The finalized regulations, due June 1, will have a significant impact on the developing role of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and on just how much control is left at the local level.
Water districts and counties especially should be following these regulations closely and should talk to experts about how best to meet their interests while complying with the new requirements. Likewise, groundwater users should be making sure that their local authorities stay on top of SGMA developments.
In September 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a three-bill suite collectively known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The signing of SGMA made California the last of the Western states to enact a comprehensive regulatory scheme for its groundwater resources.
SGMA requires groundwater basins to be managed sustainably at the local level. It provides for the creation of local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (“GSAs”) with various financial and enforcement powers, tasked with developing and implementing Groundwater Sustainability Plans (“GSPs”) for the basins or sub-basins under their jurisdiction. GSPs must be in place by 2020 or 2022, and must achieve sustainability by 2040 or 2042. At the state level, the Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) supplies technical recommendations and monitors technical sufficiency, and the State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”) exercises the police power to step in if local agencies fail.
GSAs may be existing local agencies or may be newly created for the purpose of SGMA compliance. Existing local water agencies can first elect to be the GSA, but not every groundwater user is under the jurisdiction of an existing local water agency. Counties are made the default GSA for remaining areas, and allowed to opt-out if they so choose. If no other agency then forms a GSA for the left-out areas, groundwater users in those areas must report directly to SWRCB, which can charge fees for having to assume management responsibility.
SGMA defines sustainable groundwater management as the “management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results.” Six “undesirable results” are enumerated, forming the key criteria for a GSP’s success: (i) chronic lowering of groundwater levels indicating a significant and unreasonable depletion of supply; (ii) significant and unreasonable reduction of groundwater storage; (iii) significant and unreasonable seawater intrusion; (iv) significant and unreasonable degraded water quality; (v) significant and unreasonable land subsidence; and (vi) surface water depletions that have significant and unreasonable adverse impacts on beneficial uses of the surface water
Several milestones in the implementation of SGMA have already been achieved. These include the initial prioritization of basins, completed by Jan. 1, 2015; regulations for modifying groundwater basin boundaries, completed by Jan. 1, 2016; and the identification of “critically overdrafted” basins, completed in January 2016. DWR’s GSP and Alternatives regulations are due June 1, 2016. DWR regulations regarding water available for replenishment and best management practices are both due Jan. 1, 2017. An interim update to Bulletin 118, which delineates groundwater basins based on the latest hydrological and geological data, is due in January 2017 with a comprehensive update due in 2020. (Martens Law, 4/27/2016)