SGMA – A Worthwhile Investment

  • by Dave Eggerton
  • Sep 20, 2019
  • Voices on Water

Five years ago this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) into law and it became part of his legacy. Today, fulfilling SGMA’s goals could drive the success of the Water Resilience Portfolio, establish Gov. Gavin Newsom’s own legacy and help deliver water sustainability for future generations. 

Newsom made clear his commitment to establishing that legacy Sept. 14, when he announced his intention to veto SB 1 (Atkins). Had SB 1 been signed into law, it would have derailed Voluntary Agreements on Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta water. With deepening uncertainty over water supplies, the challenges facing Central Valley agriculture through SGMA may well have gone from difficult to impossible. But thankfully, that is not the case as of this week, and the success of SGMA remains within reach.

That’s not to say it will be easy, and the emphasis must remain on local resource management as the best path forward for success. However, it is in the best interest of local agencies, the state and all Californians to ensure SGMA’s success with proper funding and tools.  The Jan. 31, 2020 date marks a significant deadline within SGMA, when Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) preparing Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) for critically overdrafted high and medium priority basins must submit those plans. The Department of Water Resources will evaluate and assess if the GSPs provide a clear path to basin sustainability and restored health. 

So far, local agencies have again proven that local resource management is successful resource management. During the summer, DWR approved nine alternatives to GSPs from agencies that have current groundwater management plans. Those agencies demonstrated how existing groundwater management strategies are already effective in accomplishing the goals of SGMA. In compliance with the upcoming 2020 deadline, several GSAs already completed their GSPs and submitted them for public review. A sampling of SGMA and groundwater work by ACWA Member Agencies is outlined in the September 2019 ACWA News on pages 10 and 11.

Without a doubt, SGMA comes with a price tag that will significantly impact the entire state, in particular the Central Valley and the South San Joaquin Valley. Extremely difficult decisions will confront regional water leaders. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic that the formation of GSAs and collaboration among stakeholders can achieve SGMA’s ultimate goal of long-term sustainability and is a worthwhile investment. 

Not only is SGMA a critical investment for locals, but it is also a very important component within the Newsom Administration’s Water Resilience Portfolio, currently under development at the state with input from ACWA and other stakeholders. ACWA recognizes that the success of the Water Resilience Portfolio depends on the success of SGMA as one part of an integrated set of solutions. We see a strong case for additional investment, resources and funding opportunities to provide a clear path for GSAs that will be tasked with implementing their GSPs.  DWR continues to provide funding and technical assistance, but it is critical that the state recognize the need for additional resources, strategies and solutions to support local communities in dealing with the socio-economic consequences that may result from changes in use of groundwater, such as land fallowing.  

Now is the time for all stakeholders, including the state and water industry, to work together to explore all options to mitigate the most significant impacts of SGMA implementation.

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