Sustainable Groundwater Management Act    > More About SGMA    > Adjudication

More about SGMA

The SGMA recognizes that groundwater is best managed at the local or regional level; that there are geographic, geologic, and hydrologic differences; and various levels of readiness experienced by local and regional agencies across the state. The legislation allows flexibility for input by local agencies and the public to develop regulations that work for the different agencies, yet will ensure that plans result in the achievable goal of reliable groundwater management. The Act:

Establishes a definition of “sustainable groundwater management”

  • “Sustainable groundwater management” means the management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results.

Undesirable results are defined as any of the following effects:

  • Chronic lowering of groundwater levels (not including overdraft during a drought if a basin is otherwise managed).
  • Significant and unreasonable reduction of groundwater storage.
  • Significant and unreasonable seawater intrusion.
  • Significant and unreasonable degraded water quality, including the migration of contaminant plumes that impair water supplies.
  • Significant and unreasonable land subsidence that substantially interferes with surface land uses.
  • Depletions of interconnected surface water that have significant and unreasonable adverse impacts on beneficial uses of the surface water.

Requires that a groundwater sustainability plan be adopted for high and medium priority groundwater basins in California

  • Limited to “high & medium priority basins” – 127 out of 515 basins in the state
  • Adjudicated basins are exempt (except for minimal reporting), bringing the number to fewer than 100 affected basins
  • “Low & very low priority” basins are exempt, though they are encouraged to adopt plans

Establishes a timetable for adoption of groundwater sustainability plans

  • By 2017, local groundwater sustainability agencies must be identified
  • By 2020, overdrafted basins must be covered by a groundwater sustainability plan. Other high and medium priority basins not in overdraft must have plans by 2022
  • By 2040, each high and medium priority basin must achieve sustainability, though this can be extended by 10 years for good cause

Empowers local agencies to manage their basins sustainably

  • Gives local agencies new authority to adopt and enforce rules, require reporting, raise funds and build new water projects
  • Department of Water Resources will provide technical assistance to local agencies
  • Establishes basic requirements for groundwater sustainability plans.
  • Long-term planning and implementation horizon
  • Measurable objectives and interim milestones to achieve sustainability in 20 years
  • Most requirements similar to the current, voluntary groundwater plan requirements adopted 22 years ago
  • DWR will develop new regulations for updating basin boundaries and criteria to evaluate sustainability plans

Provides for a limited state role

  • DWR will evaluate groundwater sustainability plans within two years of submission.
  • State Water Resources Control Board may temporarily intervene in four limited circumstances:
    • No governance structure for a basin after 2 ½ years
    • No plan after five years (overdrafted basins) or ten years (other basins)
    • Plan is inadequate and the basin has serious groundwater problems
    • Local agency has not adequately implemented the plan and the basin has serious groundwater problems
  • SWRCB must return control to local agencies as soon as they adopt an adequate plan
  • SWRCB may limit its temporary control to the portion of the basin not being managed

Core principles of the legislation reflect a long-term, balanced approach to achieve sustainable groundwater management throughout California:

  • Groundwater is best managed at the local or regional level. Every basin is different and solutions must be tailored to the basin and its users. While the legislation sets minimum standards, it gives local agencies maximum flexibility to meet them. It is essential that local and regional agencies exercise leadership and implement locally appropriate solutions to groundwater challenges.
  • That state should complement and support the goal of local sustainable management. The legislation supports local control by providing local agencies with the necessary authority and technical support. The water bond provides $100 million for planning and implementing groundwater solutions.
  • The state’s ability to intervene should be limited and temporary. The state should step in only when local agencies are unable or unwilling to manage their groundwater sustainably – to ensure protection of the basin and its users from overdraft, subsidence, and other serious problems. When the state does so, however, it should transfer management to local authorities when they are prepared to assume responsibility.
  • Water rights should be protected. The legislation expressly preserves water rights, gives local agencies the ability to minimize conflicts through good planning and will protect the value of water rights by stabilizing groundwater levels.
  • The legislation prioritizes those groundwater basins at risk for harm. The Brown Administration will work closely with local agencies and stakeholders to support local efforts and ensure the effective implementation of the legislation.