Monterey County Farm Bureau

Groundwater Sustainability

For the last 8 months, six representatives from agriculture have been meeting with a work group of 22 (Collaborative Working Group) to reach a consensus on forming a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).  In addition to work group meetings, the six - Abby Taylor-Silva (Grower-Shipper Association of Central California), Norm Groot (Monterey County Farm Bureau), Nancy Isakson (Salinas Valley Water Coalition), Emily Paddock (Driscoll's), Kurt Gollnick (Monterey County Grower and Vintners) and Brett Harrell (Salinas Valley Sustainable Water Group) - have been meeting with an expanded group of agricultural representatives on a weekly basis (Ag Caucus).

This dedication is necessary since the GSA will then be charged with developing a groundwater sustainability plan to balance inflows and outflows of groundwater from our Salinas Basin.  This plan will have a significant impact on farming in the Salinas Valley.

Core Objectives of this Group Include:

  • Identify and advocate for an agency that allows Monterey County Agriculture to remain sustainable and thrive within the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin as defined in DWR's Bulletin 118.
  • Maintain that water development, storage, availability and the use of technology are of high priority.
  • Perform the preliminary work necessary to identify an agency, whether it be in existence today or is created in the future, that complies with SGMA, recognizes Agriculture's contributions to the local economy, its unique role in developing water resources within the basin, and its likely contribution to the functioning of the GSA.
  • Ensure that Agriculture and complimentary economic sectors, municipalities and organizations have the biggest voice possible in the Collaborative Working Group; making sure that non-public entities (Agriculture) have as much representation on the final agency(s) governance structure as is possible within the confines of SGMA.
  • Work toward solutions that allow resources to be pooled and not duplicated throughout the basin.
  • Promote solutions that allow separate sub-basins to focus on their priorities within a "management area" within the overall sustainability plan.
  • Advance ideas that focus on our Salinas River system in its entirety throughout this basin.
  • To the fullest extent possible, present unified solutions to the Collaborative Working Group during the month of August 2016


Assisting the Ag Caucus are two attorneys; they are experts in water law and SGMA, and have been assisting other clients in forming GSA's in other basins throughout the State.  They have also been instrumental in focusing our strategy within the Collaborative Working Group.

Follow progress on formation of the Monterey County Groundwater Sustainability Agency here.

Historical Perspective of Groundwater Sustainability Act

In late summer 2014, the Legislature passed and Governor signed new regulatory mandates for the management of groundwater basins around California.   Combining three legislative bills now known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), a number of new requirements are to be placed on groundwater basins currently in overdraft.

While this may be the most sweeping water management legislation since 1913, the SGMA is the result of many attmepts over the past decade to regulate groundwater pumping in California.

There are many factors that came into play while this groundwater legislation was crafted and considerted by the legislature: specific areas of California have well-documented declines in groundwater basin levels due to pumping; on-going drought conditions heightened sensitivity to groundwater pumiping issues; and, California remained the only western state without significant groundwater use regulations.

Groundwater basins around California (approx. 600+) have been prioritized for risk to decreasing water levels due to pumping; Monterey County has at least two groundwater basins that appear on official maps as high priority overdraft basins.

The emphasis of SGMA is on local management to “sustainably manage groundwater.”  To accomplish this, local groundwater management agencies will be given new authorities to develop and implement a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).  Monterey County Water Resources Agency has indicated that, by a vote of their Board of Directors in October 2014, this agency should be designated by the Supervisors as the Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) for Monterey County.

In areas where groundwater overdraft currently exists, GSAs will face strict deadlines to approve and implement sustainable groundwater management plans that can lead to limiting of groundwater pumping, as well as impose fees to pay for overdraft solutions (i.e. new projects).

Groundwater basins ranked as medium or high priority must adopt and implement a GSP by 2020.  California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) issued the final priority rankings on January 31, 2015, at which time Monterey County was included to meet the 2020 deadline for GSP development.

It is expected that the new requirements for adoption of a GSP will initially apply to over 100 basins areas.  This would encompass thousands of landowners, public water supplies, county and regional agencies, private water companies, municipalities, and other stakeholders across the State.

The new regulatory requirements do not apply to groundwater basins that have already been adjudicated and a court retains continuing jurisdiction to manage the basin through a watermaster.

Groundwater users in overdraft basins have until June 2017 designate their GSA and then to prepare and implement the GSP three years later.  The designated agency must have water supply, water management or land use responsibility within its basin area; a combination of agencies could also be designated for this responsibility through a joint powers agreement.

Sustainability plans will need to have an overall 50-year time line with five-year milestones towards achieving groundwater basin sustainability within 20 years of initial implementation.  Establishment of safe yield will be based on the volume of groundwater that can be pumped without causing long-term impacts, such as salt water intrusion, chronic lowering of groundwater levels, degradation of water quality, unreasonable impairment of surface water flows, and land subsidence.  Sustainability plans will be exempt from CEQA review (same as urban water management plans).  The implementation of a sustainability plan may include well registration, mandatory measurement devices, well spacing requirements, pumping reports, inspections, additional fees to well owners, and power to regulate pumping and limits on pumping.

If a sustainability plan fails to achieve the desired results, or is not adopted within the time frame specified, the State Water Resources Control Board is authorized to step in and impose an interim sustainability plan, a potential for direct state regulatory control of a local groundwater basin.

SGMA contains clear statements that surface and groundwater rights are to be respected and that the act does not determine or alter water rights.  Groundwater and surface water interactions are likely to be issues with significant uncertainty and conflict; groundwater extractions impacting surface water flows will be considered "groundwater-dependent ecosystems" leading to possible groundwater use curtailments for envrionmental benefits.

Costs of GSP development are unknown and could become highly technical and compliacted, leading to overspending on SGMA compliance without significant benefits to groundwater basins.

MCWRA applied to DPR to have a boundary change made for the southern-most sub-basin (Paso Robles), to allow that area to develop their own GSA and GSP for basin management, and leave the portion of the sub-basin in Monterey County to be managed by our GSA.  That request was denied in June 2016.

On October 21, 2014, Monterey County Board of Supervisors received a presentation on the groundwater legislation requirements and deadlines.  A recommendation that the Monterey County Water Resources Agency be established as the Groundwater Sustainability Agency, as well community involvement in the process, was made in early December 2014.  Since then, a facilitated process known as the Collaborative Working Group has been working to develop a proposal for a GSA for the Salinas Valley basin.

Deadlines for Implementation

1/31/2015 - CASGEM reprioritization of groundwater basins by DWR
1/1/2016 - DWR to adopt regulations related to basin boundary adjustments
6/1/2016 - Regulations for evaluating groundwater sustainability plans adopted by DWR
12/31/2016 - Estimate of water available for groundwater replenishment reported by DWR
1/1/2017 - Updated list of basins with critical conditions of overdraft due from DWR
6/30/2017 - Local groundwater sustainability agency designated
1/31/2020 - High and medium priority basis must be managed under groundwater sustainability plan
1/31/2022 - Other basins bust be managed under groundwater sustainability plan
1/31/2025 - If plan is determined to be deficient, basin will be placed on probation by DWR

Resources for state-wide water issues:

California Department of Water Resources

California Farm Bureau Water Issues

CA Farm Water Coalition

Pacific Institute Report on Water Conservation

Center for Irrigation Technology Report on Irrigation Water Use Efficiency (Cal State Fresno)