California reaches groundwater management milestone

GSAs in critically overdrafted basins submit sustainability plans after SGMA passage six years ago.

Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) that oversee the 19 most stressed groundwater basins in California were mandated to submit Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) to the Department of Water Resources by Jan 31.

Groundwater level changes between 2004 and 2014, source Water in the West research center at Stanford UniversityPlans are expected outline both actions and measures to halt overdraft and bring groundwater basins into sustainable conditions by 2040.

Department staff have 20 days to review plans and make them available online, inviting public comment for no fewer than 75 days.

Tasked with providing compliance and regulatory overnight, the Department will have up to two years to assess plans and determine (1) their adequacy based on the best available science and information and (2) the likelihood that their implementation will achieve basin sustainability.

To achieve sustainability, local leaders and stakeholders will find it essential to work together and without delay.

With a deliberate lack of standardization, plans enable sustainability to be driven locally. As each GSA acknowledges its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, it’s empowered to effectively manage local water resources – without the intervention of the State Water Resources Control Board, unless local management is unsuccessful.

In California, groundwater comprises about 40% of water use in a normal year and up to 60% during dry years. It represents the only water supply for many municipal, agricultural, and disadvantaged communities, serving as the sole drinking water source for one-third of state residents. To reduce vulnerability, Governor Gavin Newsom has underscored the importance of groundwater sustainability in his proposed budget as well as his Water Resilience Portfolio.

Signed into law in 2014, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires local stakeholders to develop and execute plans such that basins reach sustainability by 2042. Multiple Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA) may coordinate and implement multiple plans that govern a single basin.

Image shows groundwater level changes between 2004 and 2014. Map source: Water in the West research center at Stanford University. Data source: Groundwater Information Center, California Department of Water Resources

KISTERS is privileged to partner with and support a number of local water agencies who demonstrate integrated surface and groundwater data leadership in their groundwater sustainability agencies and at the state level.