Implementing SGMA – An Update on California’s Foray into Groundwater Regulation
Monday, December 4, 2017: 10:30 a.m.
In November 2014, the California governor signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (or SGMA), 100 years after the passing of the Water Commission Act of 1914 which established California’s surface water rights system. Effective January 1, 2015, SGMA establishes a new structure for sustaining groundwater and, for the first time, attempts to manage groundwater use in the State outside of the legal courts. While the goal of SGMA is unmistakable, the Act itself provided a clear timetable for implementation along with a mixed bag of useful tools for sustainable groundwater management and conflicting directions which have the potential to stymie implementation. Now two years into the process and facing the first major regulatory deadline, State regulators are scrambling to develop and clarify guidelines and regulations while water agencies and public entities grapple with the implications of the Act, work to overcome differences to form the required governance structures for sustainable groundwater management, and initiate tentative steps towards meeting key sustainability deadlines. In general, SGMA compliance consists of 6 key steps: (1) prioritizing basins; (2) identifying basins in critical overdraft; (3) determining if basin or subbasin boundaries require modification; (4) developing Groundwater Sustainability Agencies; (5) preparing Groundwater Sustainability Plans; and ultimately (6) sustainably managing California’s groundwater basins. When completed, the Groundwater Sustainability Plans developed under SGMA will be California’s first truly integrated water resource plans. Presented herein are summaries of progress made to date relative to complying with SGMA, problems that have arose and solutions suggested, and an assessment of what SGMA implementation will really mean for California as it tries to achieve groundwater sustainability by the year 2040.