The Department of Water Resources’ role in implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
Rich Juricich briefs the California Water Commission on the Department of Water Resources’ many roles, which include developing new regulations and providing planning, technical, and financial assistance to newly-forming Groundwater Sustainability Agencies
At the February meeting of the California Water Commission, Rich Juricich from the Department of Water Resources briefed the Commissioners on the Department’s role in implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
He started by presenting a slide from the California Water Plan showing groundwater use and supplies in California. “This just demonstrates the variability of groundwater management in the state,” he said. “You can see areas like the Tulare Lake Basin where we have a very high use of groundwater on a volumetric basis, and then contrast that with the Central Coast, which the volume isn’t very large, but it makes up over 85% of their water use on average. So there’s quite a range in water use.”
“Under average conditions, for the state as a whole, groundwater is around 40% of the total water use,” he said. “Under dry conditions that can increase up to 60%.”
He presented a map showing changes in groundwater levels from Spring of 2010 to Spring of 2014. “All of the black dots that you see there are areas where groundwater levels are at their historic low point, in terms of all the data we’ve been measuring over the years,” he said.
There are a number of other impacts associated with the drought, Mr. Juricich said. There is an increase in saline intrusion along the coast, land subsidence which may affect infrastructure, and in some areas, the connection between groundwater and surface water has gone away, as well as surface water conditions being pretty dry.
The Governor came out with his California Water Action Plan early last year, he said. “A big part of that plan is Action 6, expanding groundwater storage and surface water storage capacity, and also improving groundwater management, so as the Department moves forward on our activities with respect to sustainable groundwater management, we’re trying to integrate our activities with the Water Action Plan.”
The law itself provides an overall framework for how local agencies are to manage groundwater sustainably, he said. “There are a number of definitions of what sustainable groundwater management is, it defines the applicability, and then the legislation sets the roles for the local agencies when they are developing their Groundwater Sustainability Agencies. It defines the specific powers and authorities they have, it lays out the requirements for the sustainability plans, and has a number of deadlines.”
“The Department has a lot of duties with respect to establishing basin priorities or updating those priorities, developing regulations for modifications to groundwater basin boundaries, and then also developing the regulations for the sustainability plans themselves,” Mr. Juricich said. “We’ll also have a state evaluation and assessment role in evaluating those plans as they are developed, as well as working with the water board in terms of their role in terms of state intervention for those areas that are not able to manage their basins sustainably.”
This slide shows how the legislation defines sustainability, which is really looking at preventing undesirable results, he said. “The key there is to look at the long term trend so it’s not just what’s happened over the drought, but what’s been happening over many years in these basins – chronic lowering of groundwater levels and reduction of groundwater storage, sea water intrusion, water quality degradation, land subsidence, and depletions of surface water and interaction with the groundwater basin.”
“As we’re moving forward in our implementation, we think that the water balance is going to be a critical part of defining sustainability, so it’s not just what’s happening with the groundwater itself but how those interrelated components such as the water use and available surface water supplies are all being integrated together to look at a comprehensive budget of those basins,” he said.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is just the latest action along towards sustainable groundwater management, Mr. Juricich pointed out. “Back in the early 1990s, the state adopted AB 3030, which defined some groundwater management authorities and expanded the number of agencies that are able to submit groundwater management plans; that was followed up in the early 2000s with SB 1938, which expanded the requirements for those groundwater management plans,” he said. “Later on in the early 2000s, the Department came out with its updated Bulletin 118 report, California’s groundwater, which updated the information that we had on the physical conditions in the basins; it also provided some conceptual information on groundwater management.”
“Then under the 2009 comprehensive legislation, we had the CASGEM program which included information on providing monitoring data to the state from local monitoring systems,” he continued. “Moving forward, recently we’ve had the drought proclamations and the Water Action Plan leading up to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Over the next couple decades, we’ll be moving forward and trying to implement those sustainability plans.”
The CASGEM basin prioritization and the monitoring associated with it is another big part of the responsibilities in the recent legislation, he said. “There are a number of high and medium basins which are required to monitor their systems and provide that data to the Department,” he said. “So far that’s a moving target; not all the basins that are subject to that requirement have submitted or are complying with that requirement for monitoring their basins so we continue to work with those agencies to get more of them to start submitting data.”
One of the Commissioners asks if it is safe to say that the basin prioritization reflects the black dots and the red dots on the lowest recorded levels … ?
“It’s consistent with that, but it’s important to note that those priorities were based strictly on the amount of use in those basins and also where the population is, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate that it’s a vulnerable basin,” Mr. Juricich replied. “It just means there is a lot of use in that basin and a high population.”
Commissioner Byrne said that he’d been working with the interactive map on the website, and noticed that there are a number of areas that aren’t covered. He assumes that many of these are probably low or no populations, but asked if they were looking expanding or adding basins where they are not as it seems like a lot of the state’s not covered.
“There were certain conditions in terms of the amount of pumping,” Mr. Juricich replied. “If its below a certain threshold, they fell off the radar in terms of priority. The way the legislation was implemented, we looked at some very specific criteria in terms of total water use, volume of water use, and the population to come up with those priorities, and then some areas just were not in the high priority.”
He also noted that there are also groundwater areas outside of the alluvial areas. “Generally when we define basins, it’s the alluvial areas, but if you get up into the foothills into fractured bedrock areas, those are not by the Department’s Bulletin 118, we do not quantify or outline those basins,” he said.
He then presented a timeline of the implementation of the groundwater legislation, noting that the orange items are those that have been delegated to the Department to implement. “The Department has a lot of the things fresh out of the gate in terms of implementing,” he said. “Updating those basin priorities, developing the regulations for changing or revising those Bulletin 118 boundaries, and also developing the regulations for the groundwater sustainability plans – those are all occurring over the next year and a half or so.”
“By 2017, the local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies will need to be formed and submitted so we can post it on our website, and then beginning in 2020 for those high and medium basins that are in areas of critical overdraft, they’ll need to start submitting their sustainability plans, followed two years later in 2022 by all those other high and medium basins,” he said. “Then after that, the Department will start reviewing those and the idea is implementation will begin on those plans after 2020, and the next 15 – 20 years after that will be implementing those plans.”
The items in purple are things that the Department will be working closely on with the State Water Board as they look at what they call the state backstop, or intervention role for those basins who have not submitted a plan or have not formed a sustainability agency, he said.
Mr. Juricich said that the Department has developed a strategic plan for implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that will be released very soon. “It really lays out our actions with respect to the act and the things that we’re doing,” he said. “When we’re implementing our activities, we’re trying to look at it more holistically then just implementing the regulations. It’s more how the Department can really situate ourselves to be the most effective use for these local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, whether it’s providing them data or technical assistance, funding, or integrating with our activities that the Department is doing related to storage and conveyance. We want to integrate all this work that we’re doing with the Water Action Plan.”
Communications and outreach are part of the strategic plan, and the Department has been meeting for several months now with local agencies, groups and associations, more in listening mode, he said. “We’re not saying what we want to see or what we expect to do in terms of the regulations, but we want to hear what are their concerns related to the existing groundwater basins. The legislation is pretty clear that the preference is to keep those Bulletin 118 basins the same, but the legislation also provides an opportunity for areas to suggest changes to those basins, so we’re trying to go out and hear what those concerns are and what are those issues that might lead to a group changing their basins. Later on, as we’re getting into the development of the regulations, we’ll have public meetings and we’re developing a technical advisory panel that will help weigh in as we’re developing those regulations.”
Communication efforts include joint websites with the State Water Board and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, speaking engagements, brochures and technical fact sheets, webinars, and workshops. DWR has several workteams with the water board right now and a data team looking at how to effectively share resources on reporting information, and will be forming workteams to coordinate on developing regulations. DWR will also work through a subcommittee on the Water Commission to provide an effective way to bring information to the Commission. A technical advisory panel for the regulations and the groundwater program will be announced soon.
- Develop a framework for sustainable groundwater management: “We want to assist with developing supporting locally developed groundwater plans, we want to help with development of comprehensive water budgets, looking at the basin priorities and updating those, and publishing best management practices as required under the legislation. We have a role to develop the basin boundary revision regulations, and also the sustainability plan regulations; we’ll be identifying areas subject to critical overdraft and then also later on we’ll have a role in evaluating those sustainability plans.”
- Provide statewide technical assistance: “We have an ongoing program to collect data, surface water, groundwater data, and water quality data, and so we’re trying to make that data the most effective and use of to the local agencies, so we’re looking at ways we can improve our reporting system and exchange systems to make that data more available.”
- Provide statewide planning assistance: “We’re looking at our existing planning activities such as California’s Groundwater which is bulletin 118, and the California Water Plan and trying to basically enhance how we’re including groundwater information in those plans, particularly looking at the water budget aspect of it and how we can do a better job at representing groundwater in our water budget analysis.”
- Assist state and GSA Alignment and provide financial assistance: “Prop 1 has earmarked some funding to support sustainable groundwater management, so we’ll be working with the water board with their own program to help develop guidelines for making that funding available. Where we can through our program funds, try to develop support for facilitation as we’re already getting requests where areas would like support of a professional facilitator to help meet with their constituents, so we’re looking at opportunities for that. Also providing technical assistance through either our own staff in our regional offices or through our contracting ability to see how we can support those efforts.”
- Provide interregional assistance: “Looking at our existing studies, the conveyance and storage projects and how those can all fit together, looking at reliability of surface water, looking at studies on surface water and groundwater interaction, and then making that information available to the regions.”
There are a number of immediate actions that DWR is currently working on, Mr. Juricich said. “The regulations for updating or modifying basin boundaries are due January of 2016, and then the regulations for the actual sustainability plans themselves are due in June of 2016, and so we’ve started working on those activities,” he said.
“In terms of the basin priorities, the legislation requires the Department to update the existing basin priorities to consider issues of habitat and stream aquifer interaction,” he said. “Originally the legislation called out January 31st of this year to do that, and so we looked at the conditions and we just know we’ll need some time to pull that data together. So in January, we announced essentially we were not going to modify the basin priorities initially, so we’re going to stay with the June 2014 basin priorities. The idea is as we update Bulletin 118 in 2017, we’ll provide an update to those basin priorities at that time.”
DWR basically has this calendar year to develop the basin boundary regulations, he said. “We’re going to be working closely with the Water Commission to do that,” he said. “Right now, we’re in a listening mode just trying to hear what those issues are, and then later in the spring we’ll come out with some draft regulations that we’ll be bringing to the Water Commission. We’ll have a public comment period through the summer, and come out in the fall and modify and finalize those regulations. Then we’ll be working to submit those through the Office of Administrative Law and then the idea is to have those done by January of next year.”
DWR does not have an explicit role in establishing the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, Mr. Juricich said. “We can provide guidelines, and the regulations we’re developing will provide guidance to those sustainability agencies,” he said. “There are a number of different options that are available in the legislation with respect to if you’re going to have a single GSA for a single basin with a single plan or if you’re going to have multiple agencies in a single plan or even multiple agencies and multiple plans.”
“The one thing we’re trying to message out there is that we’re hoping not to see these basins broken up into a bunch of different pieces so that’s one thing that when we’re listening to the agencies, we’re trying to find out what the issues are with respect to that,” he said.
There will be requirements for publication of the notice of public hearings as these agencies are formed, and as the Department receives notices of intent, they will post them on their website, he said. “The main thing is that when these agencies are formed, they need to consider all beneficial uses and users of those basins, and that’s another thing that will hopefully be reflected in the sustainably plans as they are developed.”
“So that is a quick snapshot on where we’re at in terms of our implementation … “
Commissioner David Orth gave his observations. “The timeline on the basin boundary regulations demonstrates pretty aggressive obligation for both the Department and the Commission while we’re also going to be very busy with other significant topics at the same time,” he said. “What’s missing from here is the overlay of the groundwater sustainability plan regulations which are due June 1st of 2016 as well, so you might think about in future presentations to point out that this isn’t going to be sequential; this is going to stack up on each other pretty quick.”
“I think the local agencies are anxious,” Mr. Orth continued. “They are trying to figure out how to organize, so anything that we can do early on in the process to clarify some of these things, the better. There’s a lot of discussion underway about formation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and I think guidance from the Department on the content of a coordination agreement or the content of some type of MOU to create those entities could be helpful in some of the earlier processes. … I think we need to recognize this is a big lift and we need to stay focused on it.”
For more information on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act …
- For the Department of Water Resources website on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, go here: http://www.water.ca.gov/groundwater
- For more on the groundwater legislation from the Office of Planning and Research and Cal EPA, go here: http://www.water.ca.gov/cagroundwater/
- For the State Water Resources Control Board webpage, go here: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/gmp/
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