Prior to enactment of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in late 2014, groundwater use in California largely followed the infamous water law principles of “use it or lose it” and “race to the pumphouse”. In short, landowners and water purveyors who pumped hardest and drilled deepest generally held a decided advantage over other groundwater users. Drought over the last 7 years has resulted in reduced availability of surface water and more reliance on water below ground. In turn, falling groundwater levels across the state exacerbated an ever-growing conflict over limited water resources. The time was thus ripe for California to enact specific laws to regulate groundwater use. Hence, the impetus for SGMA.
Unlike in other jurisdictions, through SGMA California elected to allow local agencies to voluntarily choose to manage local groundwater sustainability. Currently, water and land use agencies across the state are under a July 1, 2017 deadline to become groundwater sustainability agencies for vulnerable local groundwater basins, under threat of State intervention if they do not.
These agencies will have three to five years to adopt comprehensive 50-year plans designed to reach groundwater basin sustainability. Even in these early stages, SGMA has proven to be a provocative process.
The even harder work will begin with the preparation of groundwater sustainability plans between 2017 and 2022. Adoption of those plans at the local level and approval by the State may prove challenging, with a variety of financial, public outreach, hydrological, technical and other issues at play.
Thereafter comes on the ground plan implementation, perhaps the most challenging aspect of all.
This webinar will address the ins and out of SGMA, including why the law was adopted, the ongoing formation of groundwater sustainability agencies (GSA) by local governments, groundwater basin boundary adjustments, the technical, political and legal challenges GSA’s will face in approving groundwater sustainability plans, the financial and regulatory hurdles to successful plan implementation, and how groundwater pumpers and users—likely including the water agency that delivers water to your home—may be affected.
The long-term sustainability of the state’s groundwater resources will have significant impacts on what future development looks like, how local land use and water agencies evaluate water availability, and the long-term health of our natural and environmental resources.