Monterey County Farm Bureau

Groundwater Sustainability

During 2016 and the early part of 2017, six representatives from Agriculture met 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).  On March 9, 2017, the first Board of Directors meeting for the newly-formed Salinas Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency took place, bringing to a successful conclusion the state-mandated requirement of forming this public entity by June 30, 2017.

The Board of Directors were sworn into office as the first official business of the agency (SVBGSA); the same Directors were re-confirmed in October when the 'interim' tag was removed from the agency Board.  There are eleven directors representing various public agencies and municipalities, as well as stakeholders:

  • City of Salinas - Joe Gunter, Mayor
  • Souty County Cities - Michael McHatten, Soledad City Manager
  • Disadvantage Communities/Public Water Systems - Ron Stephani, Castoville Community Svcs Dist.
  • Environmental - Janet Brennan, LandWatch Monterey County
  • CPUC Regulated Water Company - Brenda Granillo (CalWater)
  • GSA Eligible Agency - Supervisor Luis Alejo
  • Public Member - Louis Calcagno (former Supervisor and North County resident)
  • Agriculture - Colby Pereira, Eastside & Langley sub-basin areas
  • Agriculture - Adam Secondo, Pressure & Monterey sub-basin areas
  • Agricullture - Steve McIntyre, Forebay sub-basin
  • Agriculture - Bill Lipe, Upper Valley & Paso Robles sub-basin areas


SVBGSA Directors are beginning work on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin, due to the State Department of Water Resources by January 31, 2020.  A conslutant/advisor has been selected for this development process.  Many different elements of this plan are mandated by the Department of Water Resources; the conslutant/advisory will make sure that all the elements are included, as well as manage the process of developing the elements that will be implemented to achieve groundwater sustainability.

In October 2017, the agency hired a full-time General Manager, Gary Petersen (formerly the Public Works Director for the City of Salinas).  Gary will guide the development process of the sustainability plan with the consultant/advisor.  Backing him up with administrative services is Regional Government Services, a contract firm specializing in public agency management.

Follow progress of the Monterey Valley Basin 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 - completed
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)