The Brown Administration and local water and irrigation districts are well into the process of implementing the 2014 groundwater management legislation. With mandated deadlines looming, members who depend on groundwater need to get involved at the local level to provide input on the best way for your local groundwater management agency to attain sustainability in your basin and to protect your pumping rights.
The following lays out what you need to know and what you need to do to help set up a plan that’s in your best interest.
SGMA Grants Local Control of Basins and Sub-Basins
The structure for managing groundwater came from three bills: AB 1739, SB 1168 and SB 1319. Together the bills are referred to as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act or SGMA. The law vests power in local agencies to adopt groundwater management plans tailored to the needs and resources of each community, a key issue advocated by Western Growers when the bills were being considered in the Legislature.
When he signed the bills, the governor acknowledged that groundwater management is best accomplished locally. Brown said local agencies would have the power to assess the conditions of their own groundwater basins and take the necessary steps to bring chronic long-term overdraft basins into balance. The law allows for limited state intervention when necessary to protect groundwater supplies only where local agencies fail to exercise their responsibilities as articulated by the legislation.
Provisions within SGMA require the creation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs). GSAs can be a single local agency or a combination of local agencies, and are responsible for developing, implementing and enforcing a basin’s groundwater sustainability program. Local agencies are public entities that have responsibilities for water supply, water management or land use. SGMA assigns the responsibility of working with local water agencies to the Department of Water Resources (DWR), and also grants the agency the ability to provide technical advice. GSAs in high-and medium-priority groundwater basins are required to be formed by June 30, 2017.
Once established, a GSA is required to set-up a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). A GSP is the plan a GSA follows to ensure a basin or sub-basin area is meeting its sustainability goals. Whether or not you are located in an area that already has a GSP in place, the GSA MUST submit its plan to DWR for approval. As required in the SGMA, all basins designated as high or medium priority and critically over-drafted shall be managed under a groundwater sustainability plan or coordinated groundwater sustainability plans by January 31, 2020. All other high and medium priority basins must be managed under a groundwater sustainability plan by January 31, 2022.
According to DWR, the legislative intent of SGMA is to recognize and preserve the authority of cities and counties to manage groundwater pursuant to their existing powers. As such, local governments play an important land use and water management role in California and should be involved in GSA formation and GSP implementation. A GSP is required to take into account the most recent planning assumptions stated in local general plans of jurisdictions overlying the basin.
SGMA’s Importance to You
SGMA’s most basic function is to manage the basins’ water supply, taking into account all users of water in the basin. That could mean no more pumping groundwater at will. WG’s Executive Vice President Dave Puglia offered his own take on getting members to be involved in the process. “The irrigation and water district managers that serve our members are already working hard on SGMA implementation, but growers can influence future groundwater management realities by engaging directly with district staff and their board members.”
And remember, just because you live in an area with an existing Groundwater Management Plan, doesn’t mean that you are safe. You need to make sure that the supervising agency (GSA) submits a plan to DWR that can be approved.
What You Need to Do
Start by contacting your own water district or agency. Let them know you want to be involved in the process and want to be kept informed about what actions are being taken. If you are unsure of who your water district or agency is, contact your county water department for assistance.
DWR SGMA Web Page
Need to find out who submitted an application to become your GSA? DWR has a webpage (http://www.water.ca.gov/groundwater/sgm/index.cfm) devoted to SGMA and is filled with useful information.
The GSA Formation Notification Page (http://www.water.ca.gov/groundwater/sgm/gsa_table.cfm) has a table that lists all of those applicants. Knowing who the applicants are will help you know where your support needs to go. The website also offers an interactive map showing the location of the local agencies that have applied to be a GSA, groundwater basins, basin prioritization and adjudicated areas. Areas previously adjudicated are the only ones not required to submit GSPs.
The boundaries of the GSAs are based on information submitted to DWR by those local agencies. DWR has a webpage (http://www.water.ca.gov/groundwater/sgm/basin_boundaries.cfm) that addresses basin boundary issues and allows eligible local agencies to submit a boundary modification request. The submission period is open from January 1, 2016 through March 31, 2016.
Besides getting involved in the process, pay attention to your local papers. Be on the lookout for public notices of meetings that are being advertised. ATTEND THEM and EXPRESS YOUR OPINION! As with any public meetings, SGMA is required to post notification of such meetings. Also pay attention to your water bill. Don’t just throw away the extras that comes with it; those extras may be notices about upcoming meetings.
What Western Growers is Doing
SGMA is very complicated. There are many moving parts. WG staff is providing advice and counsel to DWR and the other entities for how groundwater sustainability plans are approved. WG is also working with them to draft language that spells out what GSPs need to contain in order for them to get approved.
WG’s work with DWR notwithstanding, the most important thing our members can do is to get involved NOW at the local level, where implementation of groundwater management will take place.