Sustainable Groundwater Management Update: Groundwater Sustainability Plan Regulations

DWR’s Trevor Joseph highlights the upcoming draft regulations, due to be released later this month

At the January meeting of the California Water Commission, Supervising Engineering Geologist Trevor Joseph CWC Josephupdated commission members on the draft emergency Groundwater Sustainability Plan regulations, which are due to be released for public comment later this month.  In his presentation, he gave an overview of the content likely to be in the draft regulations, as well as recent advisory group input received on the potential regulatory content.

Mr. Joseph began with the project timeline, noting that in October, the Commission adopted the Basin Boundary Regulations in Yuba City; in his presentations at the November and December meetings, he has summarized the informal outreach conducted over the summer and provided an overview of some of the technical details that were anticipated to be in the draft emergency regulations.  Since the last meeting, there has been a series of advisory group meetings, and in his presentation today, he will go through the input received from advisory group meetings, as well as provide an outline of the upcoming draft regulations.

January2016_Agenda_Item_12_Attach_1_GSP_Regulations_Page_04Mr. Joseph then reviewed the timeline for completion of the regulations, saying that they hoped to release the draft emergency regulations early to mid-February, but they are still going through their executive approval process, so he is unable to give a definitive date at this time. At the Commission’s February meeting, he will provide an overview of the draft emergency regulations. The March meeting will include a summary of comments received to date, but the public comment period likely won’t be completed at that point. The actual close of the public comment period depends upon when the draft regulations are released, but it is anticipated to be towards the end of March; there will be a series of legislatively mandated meetings throughout the state.

At the April meeting, they will provide a complete list of all the comments received on the draft regulations and any considerations or changes that are suggesting to make to those draft regulations. If everything goes as planned, in May they will be asking the Commission to consider adoption of those emergency regulations, all before the June 1st legislative deadline. Prior to that, they will submit to OAL for the rulemaking process.

January2016_Agenda_Item_12_Attach_1_GSP_Regulations_Page_06The Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) regulations lay out the process in terms of how the Department will evaluate GSPs and alternatives, the implementation of those GSPs and alternatives, and coordination agreements, he said. “GSPs are required for all high and medium priority basins shown on the map in yellow and orange,” he said. “They need to be covered by GSPs in one of those three options shown at the bottom of the slide, or an adjudication, or an alternative plan.”

January2016_Agenda_Item_12_Attach_1_GSP_Regulations_Page_08He then presented a slide showing the organization of the regulation, noting there is an introduction, the definition section, technical reporting standards, procedures, required plan content, reports, the evaluation process, and the requirements for coordination agreements and alternative and other plans. Mr. Joseph focused his presentation on the items highlighted in red.

Technical and reporting standards

This really describes the best management practices and minimum standards for January2016_Agenda_Item_12_Attach_1_GSP_Regulations_Page_09monitoring technical information that we feel is relevant in the groundwater sustainability plans,” he said. “This is an illustration of a triple completion monitoring well. It’s not to say that all monitoring sites need to be in this format; they can be other types of wells, but the standards for monitoring not only groundwater elevations but of the other undesirable results, will be laid out within this article.”

Plan content

Plan content is the meat of the groundwater sustainability plan,” he said. “Here we have administrative January2016_Agenda_Item_12_Attach_1_GSP_Regulations_Page_10information, description of the basin conditions, the characteristics of the aquifer system, the sustainable groundwater management subsection that describes the requirements related to managing those undesirable results, monitoring network, projects, and actions.”

Mr. Joseph said they were hopeful that agencies can leverage existing groundwater management plan content. There will be additional requirements in the groundwater management plans that aren’t in existing plans, but a good groundwater management plan will contain a lot of this information and hopefully folks can leverage some of that when addressing the new groundwater sustainability plan requirements, he said.

Reporting

The same thing applies to reporting,” he said. “The reports will need to January2016_Agenda_Item_12_Attach_1_GSP_Regulations_Page_11meet the new GSP regulations standards have been developed for groundwater management plans, and again it’s hopeful that folks can leverage the way they’ve approached putting those plans together previously to meet the requirement of these new groundwater sustainability plan reporting requirements. Those will be outlined in regulations.”

Coordination agreements

January2016_Agenda_Item_12_Attach_1_GSP_Regulations_Page_12Coordination agreements are an incredibly important, a challenge for local agencies, and a requirement in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. “Frankly no groundwater management plans (or very few) have a description of coordination with adjacent groundwater management plans, so hopefully existing agencies can leverage their IRWM relationships and other relationships to meet these coordination requirements,” he said.

Recent advisory group input

Since the last Commission meeting, we’ve met with a series of advisory groups to talk through some additional input and concerns related to the GSP emergency regulations,” he said, noting those groups included RCRC, CSAC, an ag advisory group, a practitioner advisory committee, ACWA, tribal committee, and an NGO group, as well as several local agencies to try and fine tune things as they get close to releasing the draft emergency regulations.

Mr. Joseph then reviewed some of the input they have received.

January2016_Agenda_Item_12_Attach_1_GSP_Regulations_Page_15In terms of general comments, they have received comments about the distinction between GSPs regulations and BMPs. “We have an obligation to prepare best management practices by the end of this calendar year, so how does that relate to these GSP requirements,” he said. “We feel the GSP requirements are the minimum standards; the best management practices will be developed afterwards and they are really additional guidance for local agencies to implement the GSPs in SGMA.”

There were some comments that said the GSP emergency regulations should be developed to provide local flexibility, while others felt they should be fairly prescriptive.

There were other comments felt the regulations should allow for a lower standard at the start of implementation, and then an ability for the regulations to allow for some flexibility so that monitoring plan or elements of their plan can be improved.

They havJanuary2016_Agenda_Item_12_Attach_1_GSP_Regulations_Page_16e received comments on the level and formality of inter-basin agreements about how stringent the will be, what dataset is expected and to what degree does it need to match an adjacent GSP, how to properly plan for climate change as a requirement in GSPs, and what the monitoring standards specifically will be, he said.

On stakeholder involvement, comments that a communication plan should be included as part of a GSP so that stakeholders know when and how the plan will be developed, he said. They have received comments about managing fringe areas which are unmanaged areas outside of an adjudication. There are concerns about costs, not only as it relates to SGMA implementation but GSP regulations, but how additional costs to local agencies be covered.

Regarding depletions of interconnected streams, they have received guidance on ways to define key terms, on surface-groundwater interaction, and on groundwater dependent ecosystems, as well as plan and implementation evaluation, which is what will constitute sustainable groundwater management. “Folks are wanting to know what point will we say it’s inadequate potentially and it would then trigger state board intervention,” he said.

Many of these issues are not a surprise, Mr. Joseph said. “We discussed some approaches with our advisory groups this last month, and in many cases I think we can accommodate many of these items in one way or another,” he said. “In some cases, there is a description that it should be maximum flexibility and other prescriptive; we’re going to do our best to accommodate that within the balance that we have to look at in terms of putting together these GSP regulations.”

I do want to point out that ultimately we have to put the regulations together that are going to result in sustainable groundwater management and regulations so we can evaluate whether or not those plans and implementation is effective, so that is our primary responsibility,” he said. “But at the same time, we want to create something that is flexible and logical, and this additional input has been valuable because again, we think that there’s many really good thoughts here and items we can accommodate in the GSP regulations.”

Mr. Joseph said he hopes to be in front of the Commission in February with a detailed look at what’s in the draft regulations, but it’s dependent on posting it and getting it out in the early February time frame.

Discussion period

Commissioner Orth acknowledged that the GSP regulations are a heavier lift than the basin boundary regs, CWC Orthso the Commission needs adequate time in February and March to really dig into the regulations. “I don’t expect all of the head nodding and Summer of Love feedback that we got on the basin boundary regs because this is a tougher set of issues that we’re going to have to struggle through,” he said. “I do want to say that SGMA was carefully crafted to continue this state policy that groundwater is managed at the local level by local agencies. It was really intended to create a more solid management structure, but in doing so I think it really promotes this concept of flexibility. You summarized in the first general comments, that some people want prescription and specificity; I think the more we do that, the more exposure we have to failure at the local level. I think it’s been fairly consistent from this administration that the SWRCB lacks the resources and the interest to manage groundwater at the local level, but if the regs become to prescriptive, that’s exactly what will happen, so trying to find that balance.”

I totally appreciate that there’s got to be some criteria by which the reviewer, DWR, can do something more than, yes this is pretty print so it must be a good plan, but on the other hand consistent with the way we’ve done integrated planning in the past and the way we’ve looked at previous generations of groundwater management plan and deference to the local agencies to the maximum extent possible, I think is going to be critical.”

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