In 2014, the California Legislature enacted comprehensive legislation aimed at strengthening local control and management of groundwater basins throughout the state. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act provides a framework for sustainable management of groundwater supplies by local authorities, with a limited role for state intervention when necessary to protect the resource. More information can be found on the State Water Board website.
Key Steps on the Road to Sustainability
The legislation lays out a process and a timeline for local authorities to achieve sustainable management of groundwater basins. For local agencies involved in implementation, the requirements are significant and can be expected to take years to accomplish.
- Step one: Local agencies must form local groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) within two years.
- Step two: Agencies in basins deemed high- or medium-priority must adopt groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) within five to seven years, depending on whether a basin is in critical overdraft.
- Step three: Once plans are in place, local agencies have 20 years to fully implement them and achieve the sustainability goal.
- State role: The State Water Resources Control Board may intervene if locals do not form a GSA and / or fail to adopt and implement a GSP
Groundwater Sustainability Plans
Local agencies could create a single plan covering the entire basin, or knit together multiple plans created by multiple agencies.
Each plan is required to include measurable objectives and interim milestones to achieve the sustainability goal for the basin within a 20-year time frame. The plan also must include a physical description of the basin, including information on groundwater levels, groundwater quality, subsidence and groundwater-surface water interaction; historical and projected data on water demands and supplies; monitoring and management provisions; and a description of how the plan will affect other plans, including county and city general plans.
New Tools for Local Agencies
The legislation also gives local agencies new tools to manage groundwater sustainably. For example, groundwater sustainability agencies may:
- Require registration of wells and measurement of extractions
- Require annual extraction reports
- Impose limits on extractions from individual groundwater wells
- Assess fees to implement local groundwater management plans
- Request a revision of basin boundaries, including establishing new subbasins