DWR and State Water Board discuss their roles in implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act at public meeting in Sacramento

Goundwater pump Central Valley Apr 2015 #1

Meeting presentations include a look at the State Water Board’s intervention process

With the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in the fall of last year, the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Board have been busy working on tasks related to implementation of the legislation.  Recently, staff from both DWR and the State Water Board held a public meeting in Sacramento to present what actions they are taking to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

The role of the Department of Water Resources in implementing SGMA

The intent of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is that it was to be a locally-implemented activity, began Rich Juricich, Principal Water Resource Manager for the Department of Water Resources. “That was right in the Governor’s signing message, so the Department, when we’re implementing our responsibilities, we’re really looking at it with in that respect, what can we do to support local implementation of this Act.”

DWR SGMA _Page_02The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, was not the first round at groundwater management in the state, he said. AB 3030 was passed in the early 1990s which allowed local agencies to voluntarily develop groundwater management plans and set guidelines for those plans; that was followed by SB 1938 in the early 2000s that enhanced and increased the number of suggestions related to groundwater management and laying out the different components the state thought would belong in a groundwater management plan in general. “It was also voluntary, although the state later on came in and said if you want to receive state funding for projects, you have to have these plans, so the carrot there was to provide financial assistance.”

In 2003, Bulletin 118 was published, which is the Department’s report on groundwater basins; it is the basis of a lot of the technical information that was used to support the SGMA legislation, he said.

The CASGEM program was rolled out in 2009 which set requirements for statewide groundwater elevation monitoring and required local agencies to submit groundwater elevation data to the state.

DWR SGMA _Page_03The Governor came out with the California Water Action Plan in 2014 which identified a number of different activities the state could promote to support sustainable management, and groundwater was a big part of that, he said. Action 6 is related to expanding water storage, both surface water and groundwater, and improving groundwater management. He noted that the California Water Action Plan had ten different categories of actions; those all made it in one way or another into Prop 1 to provide funding to support these different actions, he said.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

DWR SGMA _Page_05In 2014, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was passed, setting the sustainability goal for groundwater management and promoting local control over groundwater management.

It defines what groundwater sustainability is and it does so in terms of these six undesirable results: lowering of groundwater levels, reduction in groundwater storage, seawater intrusion, water quality degradation, land subsidence, and depletions of surface water related to surface water-groundwater interaction,” said Mr. Juricich. “It does that in terms of requiring local agencies to define a sustainability goal, and it does that in respect to of all these different undesirable results. Sustainable yield is also a term that is used in the Act, and that goes back to managing the basin without achieving these significant undesirable results.”

DWR SGMA _Page_06Some of the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act:

  • Requires GW sustainability plans in high-and medium-priority basins: The CASGEM program prioritized the state’s 515 alluvial basins, determining 127 of them to be high or medium priority, and those are the groundwater basins that are primarily subject to SGMA, he said. “It’s important to note that when we talk about high or medium priority, that does not mean that those basins are somehow not being managed properly or they are in experiencing undesirable results,” he said. “Those priorities are based on the amount of water that’s being used from the basin, the amount of groundwater being used, the population over the basins, and the irrigated acreage so basically it’s the significance of groundwater to those basins; it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something wrong with the management going on in those basins.”
  • Authorizes management tools for local agencies: The law requires that local agencies form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, or GSAs; they are empowered to register wells, measure extractions from wells, require specific reporting, manage extractions and assess fees. “These are all things that are all allowed under SGMA; it doesn’t mean that each GSA is going to choose to exercise those powers.”
  • Develop groundwater sustainability plans: SGMA requires GSAs to develop groundwater sustainability plans.
  • Creates state “backstop”
  • Defines time frame for accomplishing goals
  • Does not apply to adjudicated basins:Adjudicated basins are not explicitly required or subject to SGMA other than annually reporting data to the Department.”

Mr. Juricich noted that the legislation states that Groundwater Sustainability Plans themselves are not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but any projects that might be implemented through those plans may be subject to CEQA. The goal is to establish sustainable groundwater management of those basins over time, and it gives a 20 year period to accomplish that, he said.

DWR SGMA _Page_08He then presented a timeline for implementation of SGMA for the next 20 years. He noted that the orange boxes are the ones that the Department is front-loaded to provide with respect to implementation. These actions include writing regulations for basin boundary revisions which will be finalized by January 1st, 2016, with the regulations for Groundwater Sustainability Plans following in June of 2016. The purple boxes on the timeline represent actions that the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Board will be working together for implementation, so is a lot in the legislation that basically requires consultation between our two agencies.

The green boxes on the timeline represent actions that local agencies are responsible for. “The first key one is the end of June in 2017 when local agencies must form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and submit those notices to the Department,” he said. “If you’re in a basin that’s been identified as critical condition of overdraft and you’re in those high and medium basins, then you have to submit your groundwater sustainability plan by 2020; you have until 2022 if you’re not in one of those critical basins.”

Implementing the legislation: DWR’s Strategic Plan

DWR SGMA _Page_09One of the first steps the Department of Water Resources took after the SGMA legislation passed is they developed a strategic plan to help guide their activities. “There’s a number of other things that we’re trying to do to support this because the goal is sustainable management of the basins by the local agencies, and so we’re looking at our different programs to see how we can better fit those to support that local groundwater management,” he said.

With respect to providing technical and planning assistance to local agencies, Mr. Juricich noted that the California Water Plan which gives a high level overview of the state’s water resources and water budgets will be improved to better support SGMA, he said. The Department is also updating Bulletin 118 to make that as useful as possible to local agencies that are implementing SGMA. The Department is providing facilitation support services for areas needing assistance in doing stakeholder assessments and holding meetings, he said.

DWR SGMA Strategic Plan Cover
Click to read the strategic plan.

Statewide we’re not going to achieve sustainable management just by looking at each basin individually, so there is a connection between those basins and a connection with the state and federal projects, so we’re looking at things we can do to help support that interregional connection,” he said.

Mr. Juricich noted that all these elements of the Department’s plans and programs are described further in the strategic plan.

For developing the regulations, the Department has a fairly extensive communications outreach program; they are holding statewide public meetings as well as meeting with interest groups and stakeholder groups around the state. “The purpose of those meetings is to get feedback on specific issues and topics around the regulations that people are concerned about, and we’ll take all that information as we start to actually draft those regulations.”

DWR’s Near-Term Actions

DWR SGMA _Page_11He presented a list of near-term activities, noting that a number of them have already been completed or are close to completion. The initial basin prioritization has been completed; those will be updated later on as part of the regular update; it will also include any information on potential basin boundary revisions that are received. In August, the Department issued a draft list of basins in critical conditions of overdraft which is due to be finalized shortly.

Just recently, the final regulations for the basin boundary revision process were adopted by the California Water Commission and are expected to go into effect beginning January 1st of next year. The regulations for groundwater sustainability plans and alternatives to a groundwater sustainability plan are currently being developed and are expected to be completed in June of 2016.

As a requirement of the legislation, the Department is working on a report to provide estimates of water available for groundwater replenishment, he noted. The Department will issue an interim update to Bulletin 118 in 2017 that will include any basin boundary revisions and the list of basins in critical conditions of overdraft; that will be followed up with a more formal update in 2020.

The final task for the Department is to develop best management practices for sustainable groundwater. “The idea there is to take some of the information that will be required in the regulations, but then highlight what are some best management practices, and maybe some case studies of where areas are doing this activity,” he said.

DWR SGMA _Page_12The basin boundary revision regulations were completed in four phases. In the first phase, Department staff went out and listened to what people were thinking about different issues related to basin boundaries. A draft framework was developed along with issue papers around topics of concern, and those were discussed with the different advisory groups and presented a public meetings. During the summer, the text of regulations was drafted; that went through additional outreach and public meetings. The final phase was adopting the regulation, which happened at the October meeting of the California Water Commission.

On January 1, once those regulations become final, we will have a 90-day open window where agencies wishing to propose modifications to existing basin boundaries in Bulletin 118 will have the opportunity to do that,” Mr. Juricich said. “The reason why it’s only 90 days is that we actually have to take that information into consideration as we update the basin priorities next year, so it takes time to do that; then it will go into the interim update to Bulletin 118 in 2017. After we do receive requests for basin boundary adjustments and if those are approved, those adjustments will actually go back to the Water Commission likely in September of next year to review those adjustments and hear any formal comments on those proposed adjustments.”

The next two sets of regulations the Department is developing are for the groundwater sustainability plans and the alternative to the plans. The goal is to have these adopted by June of 2016. There will be periodic updates at the California Water Commission as well as public meetings throughout the process.

DWR SGMA _Page_16The Department divided up the topics into ten areas, such as measurable objectives, defining pre-SGMA conditions or baselines, undesirable results, water budgets, state agency coordination, and others. The Department put out issue papers which detailed what the water code said and described the issues heard so far, and held scoping meetings to discuss the topics.

Right now we’re at the point where we’re starting to draft the actual text for the regulations,” Mr. Juricich said. “That’s probably going to take a couple of months just to do that. We’ll come back probably in January with some draft text that we can share publicly.”

DWR SGMA _Page_17DWR SGMA _Page_18The next task the Department has completed was drafting a list of basins in critical condition of overdraft. He presented a map showing the critically overdrafted basins in purple. The starting point for the list was a list developed in 1980 that had identified 11 basins; they then looked at existing information and reports to identify other basins with significant issues such as declining groundwater levels, sea water intrusion, and subsidence, and those basins were added to the list.

We did meet with managers in all these different basins before we went public to let them know this was coming, and gave them the opportunity to provide additional feedback or data they may have, and then we went to the Water Commission,” he said. “We are expecting this list to be finalized very soon.”

Recent legislation

SB 13 was passed in the last legislative session, which has some significant changes related to SGMA, the significant one being a provision precluding overlapping groundwater sustainability agencies. “We have received some requests to form groundwater sustainability agencies and the boundaries actually overlap, so this new legislation does not allow that,” Mr. Juricich said. “It also gives more responsibility to the Department in terms of reviewing these notices to become a GSA, and we now have a role to evaluate the completeness of those notices.”

SB 13 also allows participation of mutual water companies and water corporations in the GSA; they cannot be a stand-alone GSA but they can participate with other public agencies in the GSA. SB 13 also clarifies that an agency forming a GSA has to stay within its own service area.

DWR SGMA _Page_21He presented a slide of the different notices to become a GSA that have been received to date, noting that the majority of them are in the Sacramento Valley and are depicted in purple and dark purple. “Where the dark purple is where we’re seeing what appears to be a lot of overlapping boundaries and so as part of our completeness review, we will be taking another look at that and evaluating whether or not those indeed meet the requirements from SB 13,” he said. “That new law becomes effective January 1st so we will have our requirements in place by that time.”

SB 226 and AB 1390 is legislation intended to streamline groundwater adjudications. “It looks at things like the noticing requirements and standardization of some of the information that’s required,” Mr. Juricich said. “It also requires better coordination between new adjudications and SGMA. I think in some areas, there is this feeling that if they go through adjudication process, somehow they get a free pass on SGMA, but I think this legislation indicates that you’re going to have some responsibilities to follow some SGMA requirements.”

The role of the State Water Board in implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

Erik Ekdahl, Groundwater Management Program Manager for the State Water Board’s Office of Research, Planning, and Performance then discussed the role of the State Water Board, delving into the intervention process, and highlighting the other requirements and duties of the State Water Board under the new SGMA legislation.

SGMA Overview

But first, he went through a few basics of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). SGMA requires the formation of a Groundwater Sustainability Agency and the development of subsequent groundwater sustainability plans in 127 high and medium priority basins. “That’s 127 out of 515 total in the state of California; however, those 127 account for 90 – 95% of all groundwater used in the state,” he noted.

SGMA authorizes new management tools for local agencies to directly manage their groundwater resources, such as fee authorities, limitations on groundwater extraction, monitoring requirements, limitations on well spacing, and a number of others. It defines a time frame for accomplishing goals – generally 20 years after the development of the sustainability plan, and creates a backstop or a state intervention process.

The legislation does provide for an alternative, Mr. Ekdahl said. “If users can show that a basin is sustainable, so if you can look at your groundwater elevations or your other undesirable results in your basin and show you’ve been managing your resources sustainably, you don’t’ have to go through the SGMA process.”

SWB SGMA_Page_05He presented a map of the groundwater basin prioritization, noting that there are 43 high priority basins and 84 medium priority basins which includes much of the Central Valley, the Central Coast region, and much of Southern California. He also noted that many of the basins in Southern California are adjudicated and SGMA does not apply to those adjudicated basins, though there are still are some reporting requirements.

The calculation for determining a basin’s priority involves several factors, including population and population growth, irrigated acreage, and supply well distribution. “DWR will be updating this prioritization to include ecosystems and how groundwater may affect or ties into some ecosystem resources,” he said. “That reprioritization should be done prior to 2017.”

Key SGMA requirements:

  1. SGMA requires local agencies develop a Groundwater Sustainability Agency by June 30, 2017. “A GSA can be comprised of one or more local public agencies; however, if it is more than one, then they have to coordinate and work out how that coordination will occur, particularly if there’s more than one GSA per basin,” he said.
  2. Groundwater Sustainability Agencies are tasked with developing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan, or GSP.Those plans have to include measurable objectives and implementation milestones. There are some annual reporting requirements to DWR, including water use, extraction, and change in storage. For basins that are in critical overdraft, they have to develop their sustainability plans by 2020; all those other high and medium priority basins, those plans are due in 2022.”
  3. SGMA requires that those basins achieve sustainability 20 years after plan adoption and prevent undesirable results.Fortunately, SGMA does define sustainability as the management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results. Those undesirable results are further defined as one of six items: chronic lowering of groundwater levels, chronic and unreasonable reductions in groundwater storage, sea water intrusion, degradation of water quality, significant and unreasonable land subsidence, and surface water depletions that adversely impact beneficial uses.”

Mr. Ekdahl noted that while SGMA defines sustainability, the legislation did not define ‘significant and unreasonable.’ “In most respects and in most likelihood, this is going to be a locally-derived definition; the locals are going to be responsible for defining what is significant and unreasonable to them,” he said.

State Water Board intervention

Mr. Ekdahl began by pointing out that in every circumstance, the State Board can step in only when local efforts do not succeed. “There is no scenario where the State Board can just unilaterally decide to step in and directly manage groundwater resources,” he said. “It’s all contingent on what activities go on at the local level before hand. In addition, there are numerous off-ramps for locals to avoid management by the state so even if the process begins, there are numerous opportunities for local efforts to come back up to speed and get the state out of the picture. SGMA requires that when local efforts do come up to speed, the State Board back off and let locals take over their own management.”

SWB SGMA_Page_10There are four key dates with respect to intervention by the State Board:

  • June 30th, 2017: The State Board can intervene if a local agency or a group of local agencies fails to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency.
  • January 31st, 2020: This deadline applies to basins considered to be in a condition of critical overdraft. The State Board can intervene if the basin failed to form a sustainability plan at all or if DWR, in consultation with the State Water Board, finds that the sustainability plan or its implementation is inadequate. “The second trigger is largely a DWR finding,” Mr. Ekdahl said. “They will be working with the board ‘in consultation’, but they have to make a specific finding looking at the plan that either it’s inadequate, that it won’t result in sustainability, or that it’s not being implemented correctly in a manner that will result in sustainability.”
  • January 31st, 2022: The same deadline occurs two years later for all the other high or medium priority basins if there’s no sustainability plan or if DWR finds that the plan is inadequate or not being implemented correctly. “However, if in 2022, there’s an additional nuance where the State Water Board needs to make a further finding that the basin is in condition of long-term overdraft.
  • January 31st, 2025: If in 2025, DWR, in consultation with the State Water Board, finds that the sustainability plan is inadequate or the plan is not being implemented in a manner that is likely to achieve the sustainability goal. “Here again the State Water Board has to make an additional finding that there are significant depletions of interconnected surface waters.”

Again, in all triggering events, intervention is the result of failure by the locals to either develop a GSA, to develop a sustainability plan, or to implement that plan,” Mr. Ekdahl emphasized. “There is no direct action to unilaterally decide to take action.”

In the intervention process, the State Board has three roles: a role as data manager, a role as basin manager, and a coordinating role with DWR. Mr. Ekdahl explained each one in turn, starting with the last:

State Water Board coordination with the DWR

The Department of Water Resources and the State Water Board are very tightly integrated throughout SGMA. “In numerous circumstances, DWR has to make a finding before the board can take an action, so we’re working on communication, making sure that we’re messaging the same points; that we’re on board with the interpretation of the law and how it’s going to work; how we’re going to message that with the public, and then importantly, the regulation development,” Mr. Ekdahl said. “This is a relatively unusual setup where the Department of Water Resources is developing regulations that the Board in essence will end up enforcing, so we need to be tightly coordinated in the development of those regulations such that the regulations that the Department comes up with are actually enforceable or workable with the board and that our interaction and our intervention capabilities work well with how they develop their sustainability plan regulations.”

Some of the triggers are directly related to implementation of the backstop, so we’re working with the Department and figuring out how that’s going to work and what ‘in consultation’ means as we go forward into 2020 and 2022,” he said.

State Water Board as data manager

This role would be specific to Potentially Unmanaged Areas or PUMAs. “These are the areas that haven’t developed groundwater sustainability agencies, so they are unmanaged; nobody is looking at them, not a local agency, not a county,” he said. “When a PUMA develops after July 1st, 2017, the water code requires that groundwater users in those PUMAs report groundwater extraction information directly to the State Water Board, so in this circumstance, we actually become a data manager. We’re collecting the names and addresses of groundwater users, name of the basin, the place of the extraction, the monthly volume of extraction, the purpose of use, and the parcel where you are applying that groundwater.”

The reporting system will need to be electronic and be able to interface with the Board’s needs, the needs of the Department of Water Resources, and the local agencies who are responsible for developing a GSA.   If the PUMA is large, there could potentially be tens of thousands of wells so it’s going to have to be an electronic self-reporting system, he said.

SWB SGMA_Page_13The data collection needs to take into account what the Board might do in the future, he said. “The whole reason that this kind of data management system is written into SGMA is to really look at eventual management of the basin,” said Mr. Ekdahl. “No one is managing it under a PUMA scenario, so what would we need to develop an interim plan for them. We need to look at how much groundwater is being extracted, where that’s occurring and how that could tie into a management plan down the road.”

There will be fees associated with anything that is reported to the Board, in part to help recuperate costs associated with the intervention process, he said. “The board is specifically required to recover costs associated with state intervention,” he noted.

The data that comes in will likely be in some manner available to the public,” he said. “There are some privacy considerations that we need to take into account, and so names and address of the well owners would likely be redacted, but the well locations would not.

State Water Board role as basin manager

SWB SGMA_Page_14If after looking at the data that comes in, the State Water Board makes the assessment that additional state oversight is needed, the State Water Board can take additional steps to become a basin manager. The first step is to designate the basin as probationary. “This is a step that’s required by SGMA that basically allows the board to take additional actions,” Mr. Ekdahl said. “That probationary basin designation then leads to the development of interim sustainability plans, and that interim plan is used to manage the basin until local efforts come up to speed. As soon as local efforts do come up to speed though, that management of the groundwater basin would be handed back over to the locals and State Board oversight would disappear.”

Fees are required to cover all costs and need to be in place by about 2017 associated when we might get our first unmanaged area,” he noted.

In some cases, State Board intervention is triggered by the Department of Water Resources finding in consultation with the Board that a plan is not being implemented or is inadequate,” he said. “The probationary basin designation will likely apply to the entire basin, unless a portion of the basin can demonstrate that they are meeting their sustainability goal, and this is under water code 10735.2e. However meeting a sustainability goal for a whole basin when part of that basin is either not being managed correctly or is not being managed at all, may be a difficult task, and so this may be a high hurdle for local agencies to overcome. What that means is in essence if the Board makes a probationary basin finding, it will likely at first apply to the entire basin in which a GSA or a portion of the GSA is located.”

Interim plans are the culmination of the state intervention process; they are when a plan is actively failing, when undesirable results are occurring, when no actions are being taken to address it, and groundwater sustainability is not occurring,” he said.  “Every sustainability plan will need to be a little bit different, so those plans will need to recognize the hydrogeologic conditions in a basin, but there will be some uniformities to them as well.”

SWB SGMA_Page_15Mr. Ekdahl said that they will be working to develop fees over the next several months, with possibly public workshops in early 2016. “There will be fees associated not only with reporting, but the Board needs to recover all associated intervention related activity costs, so that could include a monitoring plan, if you don’t have one. If the Board needs to develop a monitoring plan for you, we’ll develop it, but we’ll charge a fee for it and we’ll assess that back to the locals. We’d also cover things like monitoring well construction, if we needed to do facilitation, if there were technical studies required, if we need to develop a groundwater model – these are all costs recoverable activities so in essence, even if a local GSA would likely do this on their own, if the state does it, we’ll charge for it, as well as state time on top of it.”

If the state prepares an interim plan, considering what the state has authority to do, pumping restrictions are likely the most straightforward, Mr. Ekdahl said. “If you look at what a locally-derived plan could do, our assumption is that many of them will focus on developing some sort of physical solution or new water to help resupply the basin, so that could be conjunctive use where you’re capturing stormwater, it could be developing a desal plant, it could be developing a pipeline that taps into a canal, something that helps resupply the groundwater basin in areas where it’s being overdrafted currently,” he said. “The State Water Board doesn’t have the technical capacity to do that nor does it have the authority to do those kinds of projects, but what the State Board does have the authority to do, however, is look very specifically at limitations on pumping, so essentially turning down basin’s pumping that are in overdraft until they get into a condition of sustainable yield.”

Avoiding State Water Board intervention

If this all sounds very scary in some respects, it’s supposed to,” Mr. Eckdahl said. “The real point here is that local efforts have every opportunity to work and to develop their own local management plans, something that’s going to be successful for them. The alternative – state oversight or state management – is in most cases, is going to be less likely than ideal. It’s going to be more costly and it’s not going to provide the flexibility that a locally derived plan might be able to.”

Mr. Ekdahl acknowledged that there are a number of local challenges to SGMA implementation, such as a rush to fragmentation, overlapping governance, startup costs and funding challenges, and coordination with neighboring GSAs.

Lack of funding can lead to intervention,” he said. “What I mean by that is let’s say you develop a GSA, you write a plan, it’s the best plan ever, but you have no way to actually implement that because you’re Prop 218 vote didn’t pass or there’s no actual funding to develop this project that you planned out; that’s not an adequate plan and can lead directly to state board intervention.”

There are some difficult challenges ahead, he acknowledged. “As difficult as things have been now, what happens when you need to start figuring out who is going to pay fees? What happens when you need to look at places that are in significant groundwater overdraft and ask somebody to turn off their pump? Those are the real difficult questions that will be faced in probably the next four years when those first plans are done in 2020.”

There are coordination requirements within a basin, he said. SGMA requires that basins with multiple sustainability plans coordinate with other agencies preparing plans in that same basin. They have to coordinate in terms of key pieces of information, including groundwater elevation, extraction, surface supply, total water use, change in storage, water budget, and sustainable yield, he said. Lack of coordination will be an indication of inadequacy and will result in Board intervention.

SWB SGMA_Page_21Mr. Ekdahl said that the rush to form GSAs can lead to disintegrated regional water management. “There are a couple of different scenarios for how a GSA and a sustainability plan can be developed,” he said. “Under the first one, you have a groundwater basin covered by a single GSA. In that case, you have one GSA and one sustainability plan. SGMA also specifically allows for another scenario where there are multiple agencies within a single basin, but they are still covered under a single plan, so in SGMA’s vision, that’s a coordinated management effort, even though there may be different implementing agencies throughout the basin. SGMA also allows a third scenario where you can have multiple agencies within the same basin, as well as multiple sustainability plans, and in that scenario, each one of those plans needs to have a coordination agreement, and just this one here, where there’s four or five GSAs, would require over ten different groundwater sustainability coordination agreements. Those are integrated perhaps; I leave that to you to decide whether that’s integrated or disintegrated.”

Public engagement

There are statutory requirements within SGMA for public engagement. “There are public noticing and participation opportunities throughout SGMA,” he said. “There are very basic requirements but a very comprehensive and thorough engagement plan may be more productive in the long run than the basic requirements described in SGMA. And the level of public participation will be a direct function of a GSA’s desired efforts to engage.”

SWB SGMA_Page_25SGMA requires interested parties to be informed about the Act and GSA formation. “There has to be a public notice, a public hearing for GSA formation, and an explanation of how the interests of all beneficial uses and users of groundwater will be considered in the development and operation of the GSA,” he said. “In addition, there are a number of potential additional elements that you could undergo; they aren’t required under SGMA but they may help develop a more uniform engagement plan that really helps to tap local resources and local needs.”

Interested parties as defined by the legislation includes all groundwater users, tribes, counties, planning departments, disadvantaged communities, federal government, environmental users, and surface water users, amongst others.

SWB SGMA_Page_28There are additional requirements in the development of the sustainability plan – public notice, public hearing, and prior to initiating the plan, the GSA has to provide a written statement describing how the public and interested parties can participate, and this more ambiguous statement, ‘shall encourage the active involvement of diverse social, cultural, and economic elements of the population within the groundwater basin.’ This is what is required under SGMA; there are additional elements here that could be added to foster collaboration and stakeholder outreach.”

UCS SGMA ReportMr. Ekdahl noted that a lot of those additional elements were pulled from a document that was recently published by the Union of Concerned Scientists in collaboration with the Community Water Center and Clean Water Fund, called Collaborating for Success. “It looks at how stakeholders can engage the public, it looks at the SGMA requirements, and it looks at other examples across the state where there have been sometimes divisive issues and the collaboration efforts that have been successful in bringing multiple stakeholders to the table and reaching agreement,” he said. “By no means is this a requirement, but it may be a useful document looking forward and trying to develop a collaboration plan.”

In conclusion

SGMA ushers in a new era in California’s groundwater management,” Mr. Eckdahl said. “It will present immense challenges and opportunities, lack of management can result in board intervention, and a diverse set of stakeholders will strengthen the GSA and sustainability plan, with the understanding that there are time limits. Those deadlines of 2017, 2020, and 2022 are going to come more quickly than people realize, and a stakeholder process can extend into the future at the detriment of some of these other timelines coming up.”

I’ll leave you with this parting thought. Groundwater was once out of sight, out of mind. SGMA is going to open new doors but we might not know what we find behind those doors,” he said.

And with that …

Question and answers

A question is asked related to GSA notifications to the Department and the new completeness review they are required to do. For those existing areas that have already submitted, could those requirements require them to go back and re-submit?

Answer (attributed to Rich Juricich, DWR): “Yes, the way we’re interpreting SB 13, so the Department will be developing criteria for what we’re going to determine is a complete application to become a GSA, and overlapping areas is one of the criteria we’re looking at, and so conceivably yes, after January 1st, when we look at these applications in light of these new criteria, we could go back and say, sorry this does not meet that completeness requirement, and those agencies will have to resubmit.”

A three-part question: Do coalitions created under the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program count as a local public agency? Will SGMA take into account groundwater quality management plans created under the IRLP? And how does SGMA and the integrated regional water management program relate to each other?

The first questions, are irrigated lands coalitions local public agencies? My understanding is no, but I am more than willing to be corrected,” responded Erik Eckdahl.   “My understanding is that they are not public agencies. So in that context, they could not serve as GSAs. The question of whether or not SGMA will incorporate other groundwater quality efforts going on in the basin, I don’t see how a sustainability agency or a sustainability plan could ignore other efforts that are going on in a basin, but the degree to which that plan needs to be incorporated is going to really depend on the development of that GSA, the development of their plan, and recognition and understanding of the undesirable results in that basin.”

To the question of IRWM’s and how do they relate to GSAs, GSAs have to be public agencies; they can work with private, mutual water companies,” added Rich Juricich. “IRWM’s may or may not be a group of public agencies. To the extent they are, they could form a GSA for their part of their basin, that would be an option if they are a public agency; but in terms of coordination, I think IRWM’s provide a mechanism to implement a lot of projects and plans that may be needed to support sustainable groundwater management. There’s a lot of funding under Prop 1 that’s specific to IRWM planning, so to the extent that a GSA can work with an IRWM group to implement those projects, I think that would be an advantage.”

Question: What is going to happen when different agencies submit their notice of intent to become a GSA, and the GSA has overlapping portions with another GSA. Will DWR be throwing out these notifications entirely until they resubmit without overlap?

Answer: “Generally that’s what SB 13 requires in terms of not allowing overlapping GSAs, so the answer is yes, those GSAs have to work it out to determine who is covering what part of the basin. The goal is to have the whole basin covered.”

Question about multiple GSAs and multiple plans … In that situation, the plans don’t necessarily agree within an overall basin, is that then an opening for state intervention? Is that where that is going?

Answer (Ekdhal or Juricich): “It’s really going to depend on what those plans look like and the coordination agreements between those different GSAs. I think part of that will be clarified; the Department is going to public regulations and those regulations will in part describe what the coordination requirements will be in the case of multiple GSAs and multiple sustainability plans, so I think your meeting those key elements would be the first step in making sure there’s no state board intervention. Other than that, it’s really difficult to say and I think it would depend on the assessment by DWR and whether or not there are plans for each one of those GSAs going forward, whether or not you’re going to do something in an integrated one plan, even with multiple GSAs approach.”

Juricich or Ekdhal adds: “I think in general we can say that SGMA requires that these areas which are coordinating with each other have to use the same data and assumptions, and so at minimum, if you have two areas and they are not using the same data and assumptions, that would raise some flags.”

Question: You mentioned that local agencies are going to have a lot of leeway in defining undesirable results. To what degree is the State Board and DWR going to play a role in ensuring that those definitions adopted are enforceable, measurable, and have substance?

It’s really going to get back to how successful SGMA is in the long run,” said Mr. Juricich. “Part of its going to be described in DWR’s GSP regulations, and I think it’s going to leave a fair amount of autonomy for locals to define significant and unreasonable, but the idea as we’ve been talking to stakeholders and going forward, is that there needs to be some sort of state framework in which those are developed. They can’t just be so completely open to interpretation that one basin is so different than the other that a basin fails, so there needs to be some sort of basic background requirement for how those are defined.”

The other thing to remember is that all of that public participation information will help define those significant and unreasonable results, it’s going to be a public process, it’s going to be publicly vetted,” Mr. Juricich continued. “That plan will be submitted to DWR, they will review it and determine if it passes the laugh test, essentially. When it’s submitted to DWR, there is an additional 60 day public comment period where anybody can comment on it. The plans have to be posted on the website, so there’s a lot of opportunity for the public to get engaged, and in some sense, it’s going to be .. I don’t want to say self regulating, because self-regulated things in many cases are not very successful, but it will be vetted in the court of public opinion and through the technical expertise at the DWR.”

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