Groundwater Sustainability

Groundwater Sustainability

The Sustainabile Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires formation of local agencies to devleop new plans, called Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs), to address and prevent problems in groudnwater basins in most areas of the state.  The Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin is included in this new regualtory process, and the formation of the Salinas Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency was completed in March 2017.

GSP development, now in process for the lower-priority sub-basins and completed for the 180/400 sub-basin (Pressure sub-basin), will be a balancing act of different interests, between water supply and water demand, and among beneficial uses.  The GSP will describe the basin, develop a water budget, set groundwater management standards and objectives, identify actions and projects to meet those standards and objectives, and establish a monitoring program to measure success.

Download a primer brochure on SGMA, understanding the law, and important terms to know here.

All groundwater sustainability plans for the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin have been approved by CA Department of Water Resources; sub-basin plans cover the 180/400 (Pressure), Eastside, Langley, Forebay, Upper Valley and Corral de Tierra area of the Monterey sub-basin.

California’s Department of Water Resources oversees the groundwater sustainability efforts and has produced “DWR’s Assistance Role in Groundwater Management” showing how new technology will aid in managing water resources in the coming decade.


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 extractions 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 extractions; Monterey County has at one groundwater sub-basin that appears on official maps as high priority overdraft basins (not including those basins already adjudicated).

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.  Ultimately, the Supervisors approved the formation of a new agency as a joint-powers authority, including MCWRA.

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 around the state.  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 could become highly technical and compliacted, leading to overspending on SGMA compliance without significant benefits to groundwater basins.

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 (180/400 sub-basin of Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin)
1/31/2022 – Other sub-basins must be managed under groundwater sustainability plans
1/31/2025 – Five-year groundwater sustainability plan update due on 180/400 (Pressure) sub-basin; if plan is determined to be deficient, basin will be placed on probation by DWR
1/31/2027 – Five-year groundwater sustainability plan updates due on all other sub-basins; 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)