With a vote of 9-0 the California Water Commission (CWC) has approved the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) regulations drafted by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) which will guide the creation of sustainability plans by local groundwater agencies.
The SGMA, enacted by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2014, creates a framework for sustainable, local groundwater management for the first time in California history. It follows more than a century of largely unregulated groundwater pumping in the state with the potential for land and property damage and destruction.
Groundwater supplies over a third of the water Californians use on average. In drought, some regions rely on groundwater for 60 percent or more of their water supplies. Unrestrained pumping in recent years has driven groundwater to lowest recorded levels in parts of the San Joaquin Valley and caused overlying land to fall, or subside, in some places. Subsidence threatens bridges, aqueducts, roads, and other infrastructure.
As was reported in California Water News Daily on May 14, “In August 2015 DWR released a new NASA report showing land in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) sinking faster than ever before, up to nearly two inches per month in some locations. Current groundwater levels in the SJV are reaching record lows—up to 100 feet lower than previous records have indicated.”
DWR met with more than a dozen SGMA advisory groups in 2015 and into 2016 to gather feedback on groundwater sustainability. They held public meetings and webinars statewide and published papers to educate the public on the issue.
According to the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) ACWA provided detailed suggestions to DWR for how to make the regulations consistent with the law. The revised regulations released this week address many, though not all, of ACWA’s concerns.
ACWA Deputy Executive Director for Government Relations Cindy Tuck addressed the CWC saying, “We’re not here today to say that the regulations are perfect, but we are here today to support the commission’s adoption of the regulations.” Tuck also expressed appreciation for the collaborative efforts by DWR to revise the regulations to address ACWA’s concerns.
The SGMA requires local agencies to draft plans to bring groundwater aquifers into balanced levels of pumping and recharge, which will help prepare communities for a changing climate and future droughts. The regulations cover such provisions as technical and reporting standards, sustainable management criteria, monitoring, evaluation and assessment, and plan amendments.
Technical and financial assistance to help local agencies develop their plans is offered by DWR. SGMA requires that high and medium priority basins identified as critically over-drafted must be managed under GSPs, adjudications or alternatives by January 31, 2020. All other high and medium priority basins must be managed under a GSP by January 31, 2022 or an alternative to a plan by January 1, 2017.
The California Water Commission is charged with advising the director of DWR, approving rules and regulations, and furthering development of state policies that support integrated and sustainable water resources management.