Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Frequently Asked Questions

Landowner Choice

If a landowner lives within a high or medium priority basin, but outside the jurisdiction of any local agency that has formed a GSA, and the county has declined to be the GSA, what options does the landowner have?

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) designates the county as the default GSA in cases where there is no GSA and for those landowners that fall outside the boundaries of existing GSAs. However, if a county does not form a GSA, or if a landowner would prefer to be part of a non-county GSA, the landowner may make use of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) process to request annexation to an existing district that is either the GSA or a member of the GSA the landowner wants to join. An annexation is likely to be easier if the GSA or member agency of a GSA wants to annex the individual’s property. It is recommended that the landowner first contact the district they would like to be annexed by and the appropriate LAFCO prior to submitting an application for annexation. Once annexed, the property owner would be subject to all of the powers the district is authorized to use including, but not limited to, SGMA related powers. If there is no LAFCO annexation, and the county chooses not to be a GSA, the only remaining option is oversight by the Water Board. For additional guidance on the LAFCO process, please see The Office of Planning and Research’s LAFCO Guidance Document starting on Page 6.

Boundary Changes

If groundwater basin boundaries change, does a GSA have to resubmit its GSA Notification with new boundary details.

The boundaries of existing GSAs are shown on DWR’s GSA Interactive Map and illustrate the basins identified in Bulletin 118-Update 2003. Any issues that may arise due to the modification of a basin’s boundary will need to be addressed at that time. Examples of how groundwater basins could be modified are described on DWR’s Basin Boundary Emergency Regulations Fact Sheet. However, because the jurisdiction of a local agency will not change as a result of this process, there may not be a need for a GSA to resubmit its notification to DWR, unless the GSA determines that the need exists.

The modifications to groundwater basin boundaries are estimated to be approved in fall of 2016, posted on DWR’s website at that time, and published as part of DWR’s interim update to Bulletin 118 in 2017. As part of this process, DWR will include maps that show (1) the new groundwater basins and (2) how the existing GSAs overlie those new basins. Because some local agencies will likely request that basins be consolidated, which will generate new names and basin numbers, DWR will provide a table on its website that documents those changes and identifies which GSAs have been affected by the revisions. It is advised that the GSA notify interested parties of the change in boundaries and, in particular, ensure that any affected landowners are notified.

For more information, see Ca. Water Code § 10723.2, § 10723.4 and § 10723.8.

GSA Notification

What are the GSA notification requirements for Special Act Districts and/or “exclusive local agencies”?

If a local agency included in Ca. Water Code § 10723(c)* submits an Alternative GSP to DWR by January 1, 2017, then those local agencies do not have to form a GSA or submit a GSA formation notification by June 30, 2017. However, if any exclusive local agencies, Special Act Districts, or local agencies in high- and medium-priority basins plan to prepare a “regular” GSP, then those agencies do not become a GSA until they comply with the GSA formation procedures identified in SGMA. The consideration by the Board for probationary status, if the entire basin is not covered by one or more GSAs, or if a local agency has not submitted an Alternative GSP for the entire basin that has been approved by DWR or is pending approval, still applies. For more information see Ca. Water Code § 10723(c) et seq., Ca. Water Code § 10724, and Ca. Water Code § 10733.6.

*The list of agencies in Ca. Water Code § 10723(c) are identified as exclusive local agencies to manage groundwater within their statutory boundaries (this applies to all local agencies in a high- and medium-priority basins).

Special Act Districts and New Authorities

What happens to a Special Act District’s existing scope of authority once they form a GSA?

The intent of SGMA was to add to a local agency’s authority to regulate groundwater and not limit them. Thus all existing authorities remain intact. Although Special Act Districts may not exercise new authorities prohibited in their authorizing act, the governing board can rule that extra authority is needed to sustainably manage the basin. If a governing board makes such a finding, that Special Act District will then have all the authorities associated with SGMA.
For more information see Ca. Water Code § 10723(c)(1).

Managing Outside of Existing Jurisdiction

What happens when a local agency that has decided to become a GSA has boundaries that are smaller or only partly in common with a groundwater basin? Does SGMA allow for groundwater regulatory authority outside the local agency’s jurisdiction?

SGMA does not allow for an existing agency to unilaterally extend their jurisdiction. The GSA (or member agency of a Joint Powers Authority GSA) may choose to use the LAFCO process to annex the additional land in the basin. All annexed areas become subject to all of the powers held by the annexing agency including, but not limited to those authorized by SGMA. It may be more expedient to form a GSA with the appropriate County (or Counties) to encompass the extraterritorial area without a LAFCO process.

For more information see Ca. Water Code § 10723.8(d) and Ca. Water Code 10726.8(b) in the SGMA revisions made by Senate Bill 13.

For more information, see Ca. Water Code § 10723.2 and § 10723.4.

Low and Very-Low Priority Basins

What authorities do local agencies in low and very-low priority basins have if they voluntarily form GSAs and develop GSPs?

Local agencies in low and very-low priority basins may choose, and are encouraged, to form a GSA(s) and develop a GSP(s) for the entire basin. The GSAs formed in low and very-low priority basins would have the same authorities and powers as those GSAs formed in the mandatory medium- and high-priority basins in order to achieve the sustainability goal for the entire basin. However, the low- and very-low priority basins cannot be designated as probationary basins by the Board should DWR determine that their GSP is inadequate or does not conform to the GSP regulations.

If a GSA in a low or very-low priority basin submits a GSP to DWR for review and approval, then that GSA should be expected to coordinate with all adjacent basins to ensure that its GSP will not adversely affect the ability of the adjacent basin to implement its sustainability plan. GSAs that choose to implement GSPs in low- or very-low priority basins are still expected to submit to DWR annual reports and periodically evaluate their GSP to assess changing conditions, consistent

For more information, see Ca. Water Code § 10720.7(b) and Ca. Water Code § 10725 et seq.