For the first time, the California Department of Water Resources deemed the groundwater sustainability plans for six basins “inadequate” and have started transitioning them from DWR oversight to the State Water Board for intervention under the terms laid out by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
The ruling applies to the following Groundwater Sustainability Agencies:
- Chowchilla Subbasin in Madera and Merced counties
- Delta-Mendota Subbasin in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Fresno, Madera, and San Benito counties
- Kaweah Subbasin in Tulare and Kings counties
- Tule Subbasin in Tulare County
- Tulare Lake Subbasin in Kings County
- Kern Subbasin in Kern County
According to a press release from the DWR, the basins deemed inadequate did not appropriately address deficiencies in how the GSAs structured their sustainable management criteria.
“The management criteria provide an operating range for how groundwater levels prevent undesirable effects such as overdraft, land subsidence and groundwater levels that may impact drinking water wells, within 20 years,” according to the press release. “These GSAs did not analyze and justify continued groundwater level declines and land subsidence. Further, the GSPs lacked a clear understanding of how the management criteria may cause undesired effects on groundwater users in the basins or critical infrastructure.”
In response, Western Growers notes that these basins are extremely complex and require an approach that is both thorough and nuanced. “The lack of access to surface water supplies – due to environmental regulations by the state and federal government and court decisions – have made it extremely difficult for some of these basins to show how their plans will reach sustainability,” said Gail Delihant, Senior Director of California Government Affairs at Western Growers. “That being said, we will, of course, continue to work with the SWB and the DWR.”
During a press conference announcing the findings, Natalie Stork, P.G., Supervising Engineering Geologist for the Groundwater Management Program at the State Water Resources Control Board, outlined the next steps for the inadequate basins.
Up next, the State Water Board will receive and conduct an evaluation of the DWR’s “inadequate” determination of these basins; the potential exists for basins to revise their plans to avoid the SWB placing them in “probation” and return to the DWR’ jurisdiction.
In addition, the DWR recommended approval of plans for the following basins:
- Cuyama Basin in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Kern counties
- Paso Robles Subbasin in San Luis Obispo County
- Eastern San Joaquin Subbasin in San Joaquin County
- Merced Subbasin in Merced County
- Westside Subbasin in Fresno and Kings counties
- Kings Subbasin in Fresno County
“Since the onset of SGMA, local agencies have stepped up with dedication and progress in meeting critical milestones,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “Protecting domestic wells, minimizing land subsidence and protecting groundwater resources are all State priorities. Implementation of these plans, which will require difficult adjustments as we go, will ultimately provide a safe and reliable groundwater supply for communities for generations to come.”
A recording of today’s DWR press conference and presentation is available here. For more information, visit:
- DWR’s SGMA Portal is the central repository for GSA and plan information and updates, including while under State Water Resources Control Board intervention
- DWR information on SGMA: Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) (ca.gov)
- DWR Fact Sheet on SGMA GSP Evaluation
- State Water Resources Control Board SGMA website: Sustainable Groundwater Management Act | California State Water Resources Control Board
- State Water Resources Control Board Fact Sheet on SGMA State Intervention