Historic Day for Groundwater Management in California

  • by Dave Eggerton
  • Feb 14, 2020
  • Voices on Water

Big milestones in California water rarely come in single-day sizes. But Jan. 31 was one of those landmark days, and arguably the most significant day in the history of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act since its signing into law six years ago.

That date marked the deadline for Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) in critically overdrafted basins to submit their Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) to the Department of Water Resources. At their core, GSPs represent a comprehensive and innovative approach to achieving balance in our use of groundwater resources. 

Until this month, resolving the imbalance within a number of groundwater basins remained in the planning stages. We have now entered the beginning of the implementation stage, with DWR staff having 20 days to review and post approximately 45 GSPs to their website, at which point the plans are open for public comment for 75 days. DWR will have up to two years to evaluate and assess the plans to determine whether they are adequate based on the best available science and information and whether implementation of the plan is likely to achieve the groundwater basin’s sustainability goal. 

In the meantime, we have now entered the beginning of the implementation stage, with DWR staff having 20 days to review approximately 45 GSPs and determine their adequacy, and up to two years to approve them. However, in the meantime. these plans can immediately begin to guide work toward achieving groundwater sustainability within a 20-year horizon. Most importantly, this process will be locally driven, because SGMA acknowledges that local water resource management is the most effective path toward groundwater sustainability. GSA boards are composed of locally elected leaders of water agencies, irrigation districts, cities, and counties. In other words, a community’s voters retain their voice.

As I have written in the past, SGMA’s ultimate success will not come easily. SGMA will significantly impact the entire state, in particular the Central Valley and the South San Joaquin Valley. While difficult decisions will confront regional water leaders, I remain optimistic that the formation of GSAs and collaboration among stakeholders can achieve SGMA’s long-term goals. 

SGMA represents a worthwhile investment, and it is encouraging that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget includes additional funding to implement SGMA. Equally encouraging, SGMA plays a prominent role in the Newsom Administration’s recently released draft Water Resilience Portfolio, which also supports robust funding for SGMA implementation. 

SGMA deserves an opportunity to work, and ACWA strongly supports preserving existing requirements under SGMA as it enters this critical phase. Economics and Mother Nature will present tough enough challenges for local GSAs as it is.  Making changes to SGMA at this crucial juncture is unnecessary and perilous. Instead we must join together to empower the efforts of local leaders working together with stakeholders in affected communities to achieve the laudable goals of SGMA.

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