Department of Water Resources presents Basin Boundary Regulations at public meeting

Basin boundary sliderbox

Public comment period on the draft regulations closes this Friday

Yesterday, the Department of Water Resources held a public meeting to present the draft set of regulations for revising groundwater basin boundaries, the first set of regulations to be developed as part of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.  The draft regulations were released in mid-July, initiating a comment period which closes this Friday, September 4th.

The regulations the Department has proposed would affect the California code of regulations Title 23, Division 2, Chapter 1.5, commencing with sections 340. These proposed regulations are referred to as the basin boundary regulation.

Trevor Joseph, DWR’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Section Chief, began the presentation with a brief background on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was passed in September of 2014 and became effective January 1st, 2015. “The legislative intent of the act is a recognition that groundwater is best managed locally or regionally, but must be managed sustainably,” he said. “The Act provides the local agencies with the necessary tools and authorities to manage groundwater. Another legislative intent was to establish minimum standards for Sustainable Groundwater Management. And then there is a description of how the state shall intervene, but only when necessary.”

Basin_Boundary_Regulation_Public_Meeting_Sacramento_August_v3 (2)_Page_09The Act provides a framework for establishing regulations and provides definitions for sustainable groundwater management. “The local agencies are responsible to establish groundwater sustainability agencies to cover high and medium priority basins,” he said. “The Act provides locals the powers and authority; locals now need to prepare groundwater sustainability plans again for high and medium priority basins, and there is a series of deadlines for locals to adhere to some of these requirements.”

The Department's role is to develop basin boundary regulations and do a statewide evaluation and assessment of the groundwater sustainability plans, and then the State Water Resources Control Board will potentially intervene if local agencies cannot meet some of the legislative deadlines, he said.

Basin_Boundary_Regulation_Public_Meeting_Sacramento_August_v3 (2)_Page_10Mr. Joseph presented a map of the state’s 515 groundwater basins, noting that the Act specifically applies to high and medium priority basins, requiring them to prepare groundwater sustainability plans. He noted that 127 of those basins have been designated high and medium priority, and are illustrated in orange and yellow. “The 127 high and medium priority basins cover 96% of the average annual groundwater supply, and 88% of the population overlying all basins based on 2010 data,” he said.

Basin_Boundary_Regulation_Public_Meeting_Sacramento_August_v3 (2)_Page_11He presented a timeline for implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which serves as a road map for all the major milestones of the act. He noted that it is also available in DWR’s sustainable groundwater management strategic plan, which outlines the Department’s goals, objectives, and actions for implementing the act. “So if you’re interested in items unrelated to basin boundary regulations today, this is a great resource to look at how the Department plans to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.”

Mr. Joseph then turned it over to Senior Engineering Geologist Steven Springhorn to go through the details of the proposed regulation.

Steven Springhorn began by noting that they have used a phased approach to develop the regulations, beginning with scoping and discussion to understand the issues and challenges that stakeholders and the public have on the existing basin boundaries as they are currently defined; that feedback was used to develop the draft framework and regulations. They will use the comments during the public comment process to refine the regulations and then bring them before the California Water Commission for approval and adoption.

Basin_Boundary_Regulation_Public_Meeting_Sacramento_August_v3 (2)_Page_14He then presented a timeline for the process, noting that the orange boxes represent when they have engaged the California Water Commission. “That’s required because the Commission has to approve these regulations,” he explained. “We’re at the point where we’re having our public meetings as required through the SGMA act. Our next engagement of the Commission will be September 16 where we will summarize the comments we’re received today and the other two public meetings this week, and any refinements we plan to make on the regulations at that Commission meeting. We’ll then present the entire package of the emergency draft regulation to the Commission in October for their consideration and adoption. Once adopted, we will submit the regulation to the OAL and that will finalize the regulation.”

Our goal is to open up the revision request window for local agencies to submit their revision request to us by January 1, 2016, and that window will be open for three months after that date,” Mr. Springhorn said. He said that this is just the first of many opportunities for boundary revisions to be requested as in the future, they will be linked to updates of Bulletin 118.  He also noted that besides today, another opportunity to provide input on these regulations is to attend the next California Water Commission and provide input there.

Mr. Springhorn then gave an overview of the draft regulation. “It all starts with the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act for this process,” he said. “That is to establish these emergency regulations for local agency-initiated revision changes to existing basin boundaries, and those regulations need to be adopted by January 1st, 2016.”

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act lists four key components of technical information required to justify a revision or modification that are centered around the sustainable management of the proposed basin. “The first is information demonstrating the proposed basin can be sustainably managed; technical information on the boundaries and conditions of the proposed basin, consultation with interested local agencies and public water systems in the affected basins, and then any other information DWR deems necessary,” he said. “What these regulations do is they add specifics to each one of these components, and they also establish the methodology and the criteria of how we’re going to assess those four components.”

Mr. Springhorn said there are three major criteria that will be used to evaluate revisions requests: the likelihood the proposed basin can be sustainably managed, whether the proposed basin would limit the sustainable management in adjacent basins, and whether there is a history of sustainable management of groundwater levels in the proposed basin.

Our intent for these regulations is for statewide sustainable groundwater management, so that is the lens we’ll be looking through for all of the revision requests that come into us,” he said. “We also want this to be an open and transparent process, so we do not want any surprises at the local level of basin revisions or modifications coming in that are surprising locals, so we have many areas of the regulation that will require an open and transparent process.”

The state has a complex statewide hydrogeology and the basin boundaries were last updated in 2003, so there are a lot of new reports and maps available that might be used to update these boundaries,” he said. “The previous boundaries were used for voluntary planning, and now with the enactment of SGMA, all high and medium basins are required to manage their groundwater sustainably, and that has elevated the importance of these basins and their boundaries. All of that has led to varying levels of detail on the existing Bulletin 118 dataset, and has resulted in a high variability of potential modifications that the Department can receive, so we’ve tried to make a regulation that’s flexible and able to capture all of that variability coming in statewide.”

Mr. Springhorn noted that only local agencies can request modifications, so any entity that is not a local agency is encouraged to work with their local agency to submit a revision request. He also noted that this is a voluntary ‘opt-in’ process; this is only if local agency feels a revision needs to be made.

Basin_Boundary_Regulation_Public_Meeting_Sacramento_August_v3 (2)_Page_20He then reviewed the fundamental definitions:

Groundwater Basin: ‘An alluvial aquifer or a stacked series of alluvial aquifers with reasonably well-defined boundaries in a lateral direction and having a definable bottom.’ “The basin is the whole three dimensional structure of the aquifer system; it’s bounded between aquifer and non-aquifer,” he said. “The external boundary has always been defined using scientific information, and we’ve carried that through these regulations.”

Subbasin: ‘A subbasin is created by dividing a groundwater basin into smaller units using geologic and hydrologic barriers or institutional boundaries.’ “The subbasin lines have been defined using a balance of scientific and jurisdiction revisions in previous Bulletin 118’s boundary revision process, and we plan to carry that through these regulations as well.”

Basin_Boundary_Regulation_Public_Meeting_Sacramento_August_v3 (2)_Page_21He then summarized the regulation articles. “The regulation is broken up into 7 articles,” he said. “The first two are introductory provisions – the intent, definitions, and key terms used in the regulation. The third article is all about the different types of modifications. The fourth article are the procedures for local agencies to submit revision requests to the Department as well as a protest provision. The fifth article is all about the supporting information needed to justify a basin modification, and this is really where the majority of the regulation is; then matching each one of those requirements in article six is the criteria of how we’ll assess the information that is submitted to the Department. And finally, article seven is how the Department will finalize these basin revision requests that come into us from local agencies.”

He then walked through the overall process of the regulation. “It all starts with the existing Bulletin 118 basins,” he said. “There’s a decision point at the local level if a boundary needs to be changed or not. If the boundary is not changed, the existing basins and subbasins will be carried through to the next version of Bulletin 118, which will be the interim update in 2017.”

A boundary revision request will fall into two main categories: scientific changes which are based on geologic and hydrologic conditions that define the basin; and jurisdictional changes which promote the adoption and implementation of effective sustainable management plans and that will enhance local management of groundwater, he said.

He then gave some examples on the different types of boundary modifications:

Basin_Boundary_Regulation_Public_Meeting_Sacramento_August_v3 (2)_Page_26Scientific:This is an example of a scientific type of modification where you’re modifying the external boundary of a basin or subbasin, or the new boundary where there might have been identification of a fault or barrier to groundwater flow; those are all classified as scientific modifications,” he said.

Basin_Boundary_Regulation_Public_Meeting_Sacramento_August_v3 (2)_Page_27Internal – Jurisdictional:There are three types of jurisdictional modifications: the first is internal, so these are internal boundaries between basins or subbasins, where the lines are being moved to promote sustainable management,” he said.

Basin_Boundary_Regulation_Public_Meeting_Sacramento_August_v3 (2)_Page_28Consolidation:Then the next category of jurisdictional changes are consolidation – going from many to one or many to fewer basins with the idea of increasing the management size of your groundwater sustainability agencies or groundwater sustainability plans,” he said. “There’s a special category of consolidation where all of the contiguous aquifer area or basin area in a county can be consolidated into one basin or subbasin.”

Basin_Boundary_Regulation_Public_Meeting_Sacramento_August_v3 (2)_Page_29Subdivision: “The last type of boundary modification is subdivision which is going from one to many basins, or subdividing an existing basin or subbasin into multiple pieces,” he said.

To justify the revision, there are three main components to the required information:

Local information: The first component is information on the local agency requesting the change and a board resolution from that agency to initiate the boundary revision request. “That provides at least one public meeting at the local level on each boundary revision,” he noted. The next opportunity for public involvement is notification and consultation. “There’s a series of requirements in these regulations for notifying and consulting interested local agencies and public water systems.”

Local support: The next component is local support. “This is a tiered approach to local support with the severity of the modification,” he said. “For jurisdictional changes and for the internal modifications, the affected local agencies or public water systems need to support the change. For basin consolidation, a majority of local agencies need to support the change, and then for basin subdivision, all of the local agencies and public water systems in the affected basin need to support the change. So at any point if a local agency or requesting agency doesn’t have these requirements, there’s always a fallback position of using the existing basins or subbasins as they are currently defined.”

Technical information: The third and final component of the required information is technical information. “For all of the revision requests, we’re requiring a description of the new basin boundaries, the map, the GIS files, and all the information the Department will need to make an update to the basin boundaries,” he said. “For all of the jurisdictional changes, we’re asking for evidence of existing water management in the basin, so existing groundwater management plans, integrated regional water management plans, adjudications, or technical studies. With all of these technical components, it’s more of an exercise of gathering existing information and that’s a key point.”

For basin consolidation, subdivision and scientific changes, we’re asking for a hydrogeologic conceptual model,” he said. “This is not a requirement for a three-dimensional flow model of the basin; this is more of an understanding of the aquifer system in a narrative form. This can be found in existing groundwater management plans or in existing Bulletin 118 descriptions, so it’s that level of information that we’re looking for.”

With subdivision, we’re requiring historic and current conditions of the basin,” he said. “We want local agencies to understand the current and historical conditions of the basin they are trying to subdivide to make sure that requesting agency is not fragmenting off potential problem areas of overdraft or land subsidence or water quality issues.”

Finally, for scientific change, these are the geologic maps or technical reports to justify that scientific change,” he said.

Any entity or person can protest a revision request; however, a formal protest requires the same technical information as a boundary revision request based on that type of revision, he said. “We’re going to be evaluating those protests using the same criteria as we’re evaluating all the other requests that come into us or the same request that is protested.”

The Department will evaluate all information that comes in and develop a draft list of approved boundaries which will be posted on the website; at least one public meeting will be held, he said. “Our goal is to have that accomplished by the summer of 2016,” he said. “We’ll use the information we get from that public meeting and comments and make any necessary refinements. There’s a new requirement for us to present each boundary change to the California Water Commission for them to hear and comment, so that will be another opportunity for the public to engage in this process.

Basin_Boundary_Regulation_Public_Meeting_Sacramento_August_v3 (2)_Page_35Then, the draft approved boundaries will be finalized and made official by publication in Bulletin 118. “We plan to have an interim finalization of those boundaries in the September time frame, however they will not be officially published in Bulletin 118 until first quarter, 2017,” he said. “That’s our estimate right now; that is subject to change on the number of revision requests that come in, so we’re trying to get these finalized as quickly as possible because we realize this is an important first step for local agencies to start to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.”

Mr. Springhorn noted that on September 4th, the public comment period will close. A summary of the public comments received and planned refinements to the regulations will be presented to the California Water Commission at their September meeting. At the October meeting of the Commission, they plan to present the proposed emergency regulations for adoption by the Commission; that will be followed by submission to the OAL with the goal of opening the revision request window January 1st, 2016.  They plan to have a draft approved list by September, 2016 for the Commission to hear and comment and for public comment as well.

So with that …

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