Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
On September 16, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a three-bill legislative package, composed of AB 1739 (Dickinson), SB 1168 (Pavley), and SB 1319 (Pavley), collectively known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
The goal of SGMA is to halt overdraft and achieve locally defined sustainability goals in California’s 94 high and medium priority groundwater basins. SGMA empowers local governments and water agencies within these high and medium priority basins to form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs). The GSAs are required to develop and implement Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) that provide the framework for how local groundwater resources are managed to achieve long-term sustainability.
GSAs are required to achieve sustainability within 20 years of implementing their respective GSPs. GSPs for critically overdrafted basins (i.e., where groundwater levels are experiencing a significant declining trend) were due in January 2020; while GSPs for medium and high priority basins were due in January 2022. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is the oversight agency providing technical assistance and review of GSPs to assess and evaluate whether the plans are compliant with the SGMA. GSPs that are not found compliant with the SGMA are referred to the State Water Resources Control Board, which works with these GSAs to resolve compliance failure issues and conform with the SGMA requirements. All documents submitted by GSA's to DWR can be found on the SGMA Portal.
GSAs are required to carry out projects and management actions to reach their basin sustainability goals. This may include groundwater recharge projects and adaptive management strategies to sustainably manage the groundwater resources. GSAs are required to submit annual update reports to DWR to document water supply and usage, and to update the progress achieved by any projects and/or management strategies implemented since the adoption of the GSP. GSAs are required to perform a five-year update of the GSP by evaluating the success of projects and management actions implemented, and whether projected conditions at the time of the GSP development are accurate compared to observed conditions. The 5-year review may include a reevaluation of the sustainable yield and confirmation of sustainability thresholds established in the GSP. DWR expects plans to adapt over time as conditions change, especially as California experiences ongoing weather extremes and periods of severe drought conditions.
One of the management strategies that every GSA will have to implement is how to address groundwater allocation within basins without adjusting groundwater rights. Groundwater Pumping Allocations under California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act provides an overview of groundwater rights and methods to approach allocations in the context of SGMA.