By Matt Orbach
A new player just joined the local water scene, and it goes by a name you probably haven’t heard much yet: the Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Agency (MGA). While everyone in Santa Cruz County was swept up in the Water Supply Advisory Committee (WSAC) process in the City of Santa Cruz and the re-evaluation of supplemental water supplies in the Soquel Creek Water District, something very big happened at the state level that turned those agency-specific efforts into small pieces of a much larger regional water management puzzle. Moving forward, local water management efforts will need to be even more coordinated in terms of how their different plans of action fit together into one plan under the MGA. So how did this new agency and approach come to be?
In 2014, Governor Brown signed landmark legislation called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) into law in response to the historic drought in California. This legislation was the first groundwater law to ever be created in the state (California was the only remaining state in the western U.S. with no groundwater law). SGMA mandates that critically overdrafted groundwater basins (such as ours) be managed by a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) by 2017, that the GSA create a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) by 2020, and that our basin be sustainable by 2040. So who are the users in our basin?
The Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Basin is shared by Soquel Creek Water District (SqCWD), Central Water District (CWD), the Santa Cruz Water Department (SCWD), and thousands of private wells and small water systems in Santa Cruz County. Prior to SGMA, basin management efforts had been handled by the Basin Implementation Group (BIG) which was made up of representatives from SqCWD and CWD. In 2015, the decision was made to expand the BIG to include the other groundwater users in the basin, so the City of Santa Cruz, County of Santa Cruz, and three private well owner representatives joined the group and the name was changed to the Soquel-Aptos Groundwater Management Committee (SAGMC).
In order to become the GSA for the basin, however, this group needed to form a new agency with the power to plan for and implement the required GSP. The group chose to come together as a Joint Powers Authority (JPA), with two members of the governing boards of each agency and three private well representatives serving on the board of the new organization. Once all four agencies signed on to the JPA, the BIG and the SAGMC were formally dissolved, and on March 17, 2016, the group had its first formal meeting as the Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Agency (MGA).
Over the next several years, this agency, composed of staff from each member agency and a small staff of its own, will work with stakeholders and interested parties from all over Mid-County Santa Cruz to create a GSP that will allow our overdrafted groundwater basin to recover the deficit created over a 20+ year period and remain sustainable into the future. Unlike previous local groundwater management efforts, the new agency will be working under a deadline. If the plan is not completed and accepted by 2020, there is great likelihood that the state will step in and take over groundwater management activities in our basin.
The MGA will notify the state of its intent to manage the Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Basin as its GSA in May, and a public hearing will be held at the MGA meeting on Thursday, May 19, 2016. For more information, please visit www.midcountygroundwater.org