Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

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The California Legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in August of 2014. The Act’s aim was to collaboratively develop and enforce integrated groundwater management policies at the state and regional levels in California. The SGMA needs the establishment of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies in the Department of Water Resources (DWR) identified high- and medium-priority basins (GSAs). The GSAs should be made up of municipal bodies that cover a basin which should help with the creation of Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSP). GSPs may be implemented as a single plan or as a mix of several proposals from various departments. All the listed basins by the SGMA are expected to attain groundwater sustainability by 2040. If this deadline is not achieved, then the Water Resources Control Board will be required to come up with an interim management plan that can aid in the sustainable development of the basins.

Previous legislation

The California government had considered previous legislative efforts to protect groundwater with some acting as the groundwork for the development and implementation of the SGMA. These include:

Assembly Bill 3030 (AB 3030)

This bill was passed in 1992 with the aim of encouraging local agencies to formulate and adopt plans that would help in the management of groundwater resources. The legislation permitted various local agencies to develop management plans and create a framework for groundwater management throughout California. After adoption of the plans, the agencies were given the authority to “fix and collect fees and assess groundwater management” just like the replenishment district as stipulated in the Water Code § 10754 (Moran and Amanda 9).

Senate Bill 1938

The legislature had passed the SB 1938 Bill in 2002 to expand the management plans for groundwater. This was aimed at including the groundwater levels, water quality, subsidence of inelastic land, interaction of surface-groundwater, and development of plans that would permit groundwater projects to receive development funds (Moran and Amanda 10). The law required every agency applying for State funds through the DWR to implement the management plans with specific components. The new components highlighted were: basin management objectives, inclusion of local agencies in the planning efforts, and consider monitoring protocols which would promote effective management.

Assembly Bill 359

AB 359 was introduced by the assembly in 2011. It was aimed at improving the California Water Code by including the mandatory provision of groundwater plans by the local agencies to the DWR. The department (DWR) was also expected to make the plans accessible to the public. The bill also required all local agencies dealing with groundwater management to submit the recharge area maps to planning agencies as well as DWR and other interested parties (Moran and Amanda 11). Before the passage of the Bill, planning agencies were not needed to submit their plans to the DWR; this affected the transparency of the planning programs.

The new law (SGMA)

Amidst the passage of the previous bills, the demand for groundwater still exceeded the available yield, and as a result many individuals have over extracted the available groundwater. This has reduced water quality and quantity which in turn affects the water available for households and agriculture. To address these challenges, the Governor for California passed into law three bills: AB 1739, SB 1319, and SB 1168 which generally formulate the SGMA. The Act is to ensure that there all undesirable results in the planning and management of groundwater are prevented. These include: unreasonable reduction of water storage, intrusion of seawater, degraded groundwater quality, subsidence of land, and adverse effects on the usage of surface and groundwater. The Act provides enforcement and financial tools for effective management of groundwater through the creation of the GSAs. The legislation also mandates the DWR to formulate regulations indicating the basin boundaries and the GSPs. The department is also given the role of updating basin priorities as well as carry out assessment of groundwater through the next decade.

Limitation on pumping and water extraction

SGMA had been passed with the aim of controlling water access in California. Currently, there is a serious overdraft of the groundwater basins. In Central Valley, for instance, the wells are drying up, a situation that has forced many households to import water. There is over-pumping of water in the area which has led to land subsidence; some of the places have sunk up to 30 feet below. SGMA controls pumping of water from drafted high and medium-priority basins only which are 127 in total (Moran and Amanda 12). Through the SGAs, the 43 high and 84 medium priority basins must not exceed the pumping limit set by the DWR in accordance with Section 1200 of the Water Code. Section 12924 of the Act mandates the DWR to investigate the groundwater extraction patterns as well as the level of recharge in the marked basins. The department may, therefore, revise the basins boundaries or recommend pumping limitations based on their investigations or information given by other interested groups.

Impact of the legislation

The implementation of SGMA will result in natural resource conservation in the California with different stakeholders including the management groups, farmers, and the locals observing the benefits. A key advantage of the legislation is the resulting holistic approach to groundwater management. According to Famiglietti, until the passage of SGMA, the state of California did not have a comprehensive framework to protect its water resources (945). What was present was the traditional approach of promoting local control to avoid conflicts; this was accompanied by reduced flexibility of the system and fragmented management. However, SGMA has mandated specific sustainability goals which are implemented at the local level to improve the management of groundwater resources (Famiglietti 946). It promotes a holistic approach since it provides for the development of GSPs by multiple agencies within each basin, which must be coordinated using a single agreement. SGMA requires that management of the groundwater entails the determination of existing interactions between boundaries of different basins; engagement of different stakeholders including the locals; promoted cross political and local decision making; and negotiations of different parties. (Moran and Amanda 12). The holistic approach of groundwater management through the Act, therefore, promotes inclusion of all stakeholders which result in a more transparent and engaging decision making.

Unlike the previous legislation that promoted voluntary groundwater management, SGMA encourages compulsory commitment, thus, increasing the level of adherence to the management plans. Famiglietti suggested that previous bills such as AB 359 and AB 3030 were voluntary frameworks, thus, lacked urgency, few authority, and minimal guidance (944). SGMA, on the other hand, introduced threatening interventions of the basins under management fail to achieve sustainability. The Act also provides tools and authority to the GSAs to achieve the sustainable goals. The GSAs have the mandate to adopt new regulations, limiting extraction of groundwater, requiring metering, acquiring water rights, and imposing fees. Through the credible threat of SGMA, GSAs and other agencies will be committed to take key actions to attain the goals of sustainable management.

Through the SGMA, the government provides for the fund that will aid in the long-term development and planning of the groundwater management projects. In 2016, $640 million was allocated for the management of underground water in Central and Coachella valleys. The funds were used to implement recharge projects as well as reduce pumping in the areas that already exceeded the limits of extraction. Additionally, through the Act, over $750 million had been allocated for the restoration of the Friant-Kern Canal which had been reduced significantly due to overdraft of groundwater (Kern County n.p). The funds had been used to restoration the canal and implement recharge programs. Through proper channeling of San Joaquin and Delta rivers into the Friant Kern canal will help to capitalize water supply for agriculture.

Works Cited

Famiglietti, James S. “The global groundwater crisis.” Nature Climate Change 4.11 (2014): 945-948.

Kern County. “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).” California. 2017.

Moran, Tara, and Amanda Cravens. “California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014: Recommendations for preventing and resolving groundwater conflicts.” (2015).

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