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California Department of Water Resources Makes Progress in SGMA Implementation by Releasing Draft Regulations for Groundwater Sustainability Plans

The Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) recent release of draft emergency regulations for developing and evaluating groundwater sustainability plans marks continued progress toward implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), California’s comprehensive groundwater regulatory framework enacted in 2014. SGMA and its implementing regulations are likely to impact availability of groundwater throughout California, especially for users in basins that have historically experienced overdraft conditions. A copy of the new draft regulations can be accessed here.

The draft regulations are important for private landowners and developers because they provide a role for public participation during the groundwater sustainability plan development and adoption process and during DWR’s approval of the plans. Additionally, California Public Utilities Commission-regulated water corporations and mutual water companies that hope to participate in their basin’s groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) should view these regulations as an opportunity to preview the kinds of issues likely to arise during development of groundwater sustainability plans. 

Under SGMA, a groundwater sustainability plan must be adopted by the GSA for each basin designated medium- and high-priority by the state. The plan’s purpose is to identify the actions that will achieve the basin’s sustainability goal, which must be met within 20 years of plan adoption. After adoption by the GSA, the plan must be submitted to DWR for review.

These new draft regulations establish the numerous and detailed required components of a groundwater sustainability plan. Notably, the plan must include the following: 

  • A description of the basin’s physical setting, characteristics, and current and historical groundwater use, including maps; 

  • A discussion of consultation undertaken with stakeholders who beneficially use groundwater from the basin;

  • A description of the processes and criteria relied upon to define undesirable results, which are measured by six “critical parameters” – lowering of groundwater levels, reduction of groundwater storage, sea water intrusion, degraded water quality, land subsidence, and depletions of surface water;

  • For each critical parameter, a numerical minimum threshold below which undesirable results are deemed to have occurred in the basin; 

  • A description of the monitoring well network to be used for measuring basin conditions;

  • A description of the projects and management actions adopted to meet the basin’s sustainability goal, including contingency projects to be implemented in specific circumstances; and

  • Best management practices adopted by the GSA for basin management and monitoring activities. 

Other topics addressed by the draft regulations include: DWR’s methodology and criteria for evaluation of groundwater sustainability plans; GSA annual reporting requirements post-plan adoption; and the groundwater sustainability plan amendment process.

The draft regulations also establish requirements for coordination agreements, which are required when more than one groundwater sustainability plan is prepared for a groundwater basin. In that case, a “Submitting Agency” must be identified to serve as the single point of contact with DWR. Among other responsibilities, the Submitting Agency must compile and harmonize information received from the various GSAs in the basin to develop a comprehensive report of basin conditions. Coordination agreements require DWR review along with the groundwater sustainability plans. 

Comments on the draft regulations must be submitted to DWR in writing by March 25, 2016. Public meetings regarding the draft regulations will be held in Visalia on March 21, in Santa Ana on March 22, and via online webinar on March 24. DWR is required to adopt the final regulations by June 1, 2016. (Wat. Code, § 10733.2.)

© 2010-2021 Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP National Law Review, Volume VI, Number 56



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