Best management practices for implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act due by end of year; A look at the upcoming water loss audit regulation
At the November meeting of the California Water Commission, agenda items included a presentation on the upcoming best management practices, which were released in draft form at the end of October; and a presentation on the upcoming water loss audit regulation, expected to be ready for Commission approval in the first quarter of 2017.
SGMA Best Management Practices
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act laid out several tasks for the Department of Water Resources to accomplish that included prioritizing groundwater basins, developing two sets of regulations, an update of Bulletin 118, a report on water available for replenishment, and developing a set of Best Management Practices for sustainable groundwater management.
Best management practices are intended to provide clarification, guidance, and examples to help groundwater sustainability agencies develop the essential elements of a groundwater sustainability plan. At the November meeting of the California Water Commission, DWR’s Assistant Program Manager Trevor Joseph briefed the commissioners on the five best management practices and other guidance documents, which were released for public comment earlier in the month.
Mr. Joseph reviewed the work that has been done so far, noting that the items in the box on the slide are still left to be done. By the end of the year (or by January 1), the Department is to publish a report on water available for replenishment, release a interim update to Bulletin 118, and publish a set of best management practices on their website.
Even after these requirements are completed, the Department’s role in sustainable groundwater management will continue. The Department has a role in posting the notices for the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies that are forming; that will continue until June 30, 2017; they will also be reviewing any alternatives to groundwater sustainability plans that are submitted. “By no means are we getting to a point where we’re going to be done with a lot of activities; a whole second phase of work really begins,” Mr. Joseph said.
The focus of today’s presentation is on the best management practices. Mr. Joseph noted that the test of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act doesn’t provide a lot of prescription on what those need to be; it just says that the best management practices need to be published by January 1, 2017, and that they are to have four public meetings.
“We actually like that flexibility because we’re trying to do a lot of different things within the project,” he said. “We think BMPs are really technical assistance to provide clarification or provide examples to aid local agencies, stakeholders, and groundwater sustainability agencies in the development of groundwater sustainability plans and SGMA implementation.”
Mr. Joseph emphasized that best management practices are not requirements; they are guidance. “The regulations are the requirements, so the BMPs are optional for local agencies and stakeholders to use,” he said. “However, there are two caveats: in the GSP regulations, there were a couple of sections that require that local agencies either develop their own BMPs for some technical items, or adopt the Department’s BMPs. Those have to deal with monitoring protocols and installation of monitoring sites, so two of the draft BMPs that we have out now are out to achieve that purpose. A local agency can use ours, or develop their own as it relates to those specific technical activities.”
Mr. Joseph said that the Department feels this is an ongoing project. They intend to add more BMPs or amend the existing ones as necessary in order to provide ongoing assistance to groundwater sustainability agencies. “We’re hoping these are our technical manuals,” he said. “We can sit down with local agencies and talk through some of the specifics, both in the regulations and the best management practices, so we think they are important items to continuously work on to with the SGMA and GSP development.”
Mr. Joseph acknowledged that a lot of good reference work for sustainable groundwater management has been produced by others in recent years. “At some point, we hope to have our website be the hub for this information, but we’re not looking to recreate a lot of good information that’s out there,” he said. “We’re focused initially with these first draft documents specifically on technical assistance and creating BMPs of our own, and not trying to recreate something that is already there.”
Mr. Joseph said that due to time limitations, they weren’t able to hold as many meetings with advisory groups and stakeholders as they did on the regulations, so they used the surrogate of the survey to garner input from folks on the topics for development of the best management practices. There was a good distribution of respondents that included local agencies, private well owners, city and county governments, practitioners, and other stakeholders.
“The technical items that we prepared in the BMPs, including water budget and monitoring, were the highest ranked topics by local agencies and survey respondents, as well as some of the most challenging aspects of SGMA, such as how to approach undesirable results, measurable objectives, and minimum thresholds,” Mr. Joseph said.
The Department has also posted a four page framework document that is intended to provide information on how to utilize the BMPs and explain how the BMPs fit together in terms of how to approach GSP development.
He then presented a graphic showing one way to look at developing a groundwater sustainability plan. “You have to look at the regulations ultimately, but if you were to try to summarize the major components that need to be addressed, they are these building blocks,” he said. “Outreach is incredibly important; there are a lot of outreach requirements in the Act and in the regulations. Basin setting, planning, projects and management actions, and monitoring. The five best management practices that we’ve released here initially here are shown as bullets. We have two monitoring BMPs, a modeling BMP, hydrogeologic conceptual model, and water budget.”
The Department has also released other guidance documents which contain important information that the Department feels is important to get out there as soon as possible: a checklist and a groundwater sustainability plan annotated outline. Mr. Joseph said the checklist is all the regulatory requirements of SGMA so that as folks are preparing their plan, they can make sure they have covered everything. Likewise, the outline is pretty simple and it’s optional, he said.
“You do not have to structure your groundwater sustainability plan that way but if you don’t have an outline and you’re at that point and need some guidance there, that document is available to you,” he said. “If you have a good groundwater management plan that you just need to add some of those regulatory requirements to, you are free to use your own structure.”
They are currently working on other guidance documents in addition to those already released. One of those is a guidance document on engaging with tribal governments which will provide a summary for local agencies on how tribes wish to be engaged in the process of developing a groundwater sustainability plans that they are hoping to have out by the end of the year. They are also working on a general stakeholder engagement and communication guidance document, as well as a document on how to address undesirable results, how to look at and establish minimum thresholds, and how to establish measurable objectives.
Mr. Joseph acknowledged that the hardest part of the regulation to write was how to develop those quantifications in your GSP. “What the regulations didn’t allow us to do is to use graphics and to use a step-wise process or a flow chart or examples in terms of how to approach those specific requirements, so that’s what we intend to do with that guidance document is to explain that regulatory section with those aids of graphics and flowcharts,” he said. “Hopefully that will be a useful document in the near future.”
Mr. Joseph said that the best management practices all have a similar structure and outline. They have been developed to track the regulations line by line. “For example, the regulations have a water budget section that requires specific things, line by line, and the BMP has that same order, so hopefully you can see water budget requirement A and then you can hopefully see the corresponding how to approach that in a BMP in that document,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you have to do it that way; there may be other ways to achieve that regulatory requirement, but these are that guidance on how to impelement in the BMP documents.”
Mr. Joseph then went into some of the specifics of the five best management practices:
BMP #1: Monitoring protocols, standards and sites: This BMP explains how to collect data so that’s its done in a consistent manner; there needs to be standard procedures and processes as it relates to establishing monitoring and specifically related to measuring, monitoring, and sampling that really get to those sustainability indicators that are identified in the regulations and avoidance of those undesirable results. “This document is really driving at how to do those specific technical data collection activities to drive consistency basin-wide,” he said.
BMP #2: Monitoring networks and identification of data gaps: This BMP covers the spatial distribution and temporal frequency of how data is collected. It provides guidance on how to approach that requirement of avoiding or minimizing data gaps and coming up with the right spatial distribution and correct frequency of monitoring data collection, as well as the representative monitoring points that are identified in the regulations. “This is very important from a compliance perspective, because undesirable results are going to ultimately be measured in terms of how conditions are monitored and measured at these representative monitoring points,” he said. “This diagram here shows a basin that perhaps have four different management areas, and these targets are the representative monitoring points, and then which sustainability indicator is monitored at those points. So there’s some guidance on how to set up representative monitoring sites, a regulatory requirement, in this best management practice document.”
BMP #3: Hydrogeologic conceptual model: A hydrologic conceptual model, another regulatory requirement, is incredibly important as it’s the basis for establishing and understanding the basin setting. It’s important because a lot of additional technical items branch from that hydrogeologic conceptual understanding, he said. “How you set up then a numerical or a model is based on a good hydrogeologic conceptual understanding. How you identify those undesirable results, how you set up monitoring, water budget information, and it’s also important in communicating with stakeholders in terms of outreach.”
BMP #4: Water budget: A water budget is a very important component of the regulations. This BMP explains some of the fundamentals related to water budgets, such as how to account for inflows and outflows, the change in storage, and define sustainable yield, as well as how to approach the water budget from a tabular graphic format. It provides examples of how to define current, historical, and projected water budgets.
BMP #5: Modeling: This document provides an overview of the fundamentals of modeling and the different types of models, and guiding principles for models. It covers the consideration, the uses of models, how models can help address and identify at what point sustainability indicators will turn into undesirable results, how models aid in the development of water budgets, and then assessing impacts to adjacent basins. “Specifically this gets to the proprietary issue that came up during the regulations,” Mr. Joseph said, noting that it’s a regulatory requirement that GSAs cannot use a proprietary model if they haven’t already started a model after January 1st, 2015. “There were concerns about local agencies continuing to use proprietary models. This provides some guiding principles in for those who are going to continue to use a proprietary model and the reasons for doing that.” He noted that an ongoing activity is to map out models for use in the future for groundwater sustainability plans.
Mr. Joseph said that with the BMPs, they are starting to ‘gray’ the distinction between the regulatory requirements and starting to use these in a process to aid local agencies. “We’re moving beyond a lot of the phase 1 activities for the department,” he said. “Local agencies still have a lot of work to do to work on GSA formation, and starting to get their governance in place and thinking about developing a groundwater sustainability plan, but from our perspective, we’re really interested in now moving to the second phase which would be the GSP preparation and submission.”
There are at least four different groups of activities that the Department will be working on to aid in development of GSPs: providing planning assistance, working with regional coordinators as GSAs are starting to form their GSPs; GSP compliance and having discussions about compliance and the regulations as the GSAs are developing their plans; technical assistance, such as providing data sets and other activities that are cost-effective for the state to provide; and financial assistance, such as the Prop 1 funds that are set aside for groundwater sustainability plans.
And at some point in 2020 or 2022, the Department will morph into a more regulatory role. “We’ll have the responsibility of reviewing these plans to see if they are acceptable, but we think that’s still an ongoing process of working with local agencies and stakeholders,” said Mr. Joseph. “We want them to be successful, and so we’re gearing up in this format to hopefully so we can get a high rate of success in this effort.”
In October of 2015, the legislature and the Governor added a section to the Water Code that requires urban retail water suppliers to submit annual water loss audits to the Department of Water Resources. At the November meeting of the California Water Commission, Todd Thompson with the Division of Statewide Integrated Water Management briefed the commissioners on the work being done on the regulation as stipulated in the statute, which they anticipate to bring before the Commission in the first quarter of 2017.
Mr. Thompson began with a primer on water losses. “Municipal systems leak,” he said. “There are miles of mains and laterals, hundreds of connections, and other pertinent devices, all providing water under pressure,” he said. “These systems all lose water as it is purveyed out to the public.”
The amount of water lost can be significant. As derived from audits required with Urban Water Management Plans, these losses can be between 33 to 348 gallons per connection per day; on a yearly basis, it could be from 2450 gallons to as high as 52,000 gallons per capita per year, said Mr. Thompson.
“In total, from that data we were looking at, and we called the 50 municipalities with strong audits that were showing fairly large losses, we’re looking at between 50 million gallons a day to over 5.5 billion gallons per day,” Mr. Thompson said. “That’s a striking number, but keep in mind that’s probably a very, very large system. And the larger the system, the more water is going to be lost in the system.”
The key to addressing water losses in the system is to perform water loss audits that look at what’s going out versus what can be accounted for, as well as looking at the data and the data scores as the value of the data going into the audits is also important, he said.
The Department of Water Resources addressed water loss auditing back in 1988 when the issued guidebook #5 in association with the Cal Nevada section of the American Water Works Association, which established a standard for California. That was the precursor to a nationwide standard on water audits and loss control programs that was developed and supported by the American Water Works Association.
The water audit is an accounting exercise similar to a financial audit where all sources and uses of water within a water system are tracked over a specified period to reveal and clarify inefficiencies in water delivery and revenue generation. Water audits can reveal how much water leaking from the system itself, customer metering inaccuracies, unauthorized consumption (theft), or systematic data handling errors.
Water loss audits are most useful when the data input into the audit reliably reflects the reality of utility operations and performance. Data validation is a quality control process conducted to verify and improve as needed the data inputs for the water audits. If the input data isn’t very good, it won’t provide much useful information for the utility or for the state, Mr. Thompson pointed out.
California water utilities have been performing water audits. Most notably, members of the California Urban Water Conservation Council have been doing audits on their systems since 2010, so 200+ water systems in California have 5+ years of data. In addition, the Urban Water Management Plans are required to have a water loss audit attached to their water management plans, which are submitted every 5 years.
“The future will be annual audits for the urban retail water suppliers,” said Mr. Thompson.
The statue requires the Department of Water Resources to establish water loss audit and water loss audit validation standards, establish technical standards for water loss validators and water suppliers conducting their own validations, establish reporting requirements, establish a website for posting validated audits, and to provide technical assistance. The State Water Resources Control Board also has requirements under the statute to provide technical assistance to water utilities and to establish performance standards for water loss audits after two full years of data, Mr. Thompson said.
The regulation is pretty straightforward because the statute was rather prescriptive. “What we’re looking at is specifying the reporting requirement of October 1st, 2017 and annually thereafter for validated urban water audits,” he said. “The regulations are going to require that they use the national standard, the AWWA standard. All the audits are going to be required to be validated so that the data coming in is going to be good and useful for the utility and for the state.”
There will be prescriptive requirements for minimum standards of validation for what the person performing the audit will have to do; there will also be a requirement for a certificate for validation which was required in the code, he said. “The California-Nevada section of the American Water Works Association is stepping up to establish a certificate program to keep a level of professionalism high and we do appreciate that they’ve taken that step forward,” Mr. Thompson said.
There will be reporting requirements for who signs the documents, as well as what the utility is doing to improve their audit score and what they are doing to minimize their water losses in the previous year.
A draft regulation is currently undergoing internal review. Three stakeholder meetings have been held to garner input from the industry. “Our stakeholders were comprised of private and public agencies, some of them have very good water loss audit programs and some of them have growing water loss audit programs,” he said. “We also had environmental representation with the NRDC who were very interested in this program and supportive of it, as well as trade industry associations like ACWA and the California Nevada American Water Works Association. We’ve had some really good input to help us craft the regulations.”
The State Water Resources Control Board has secured a contract with the California-Nevada American Water Works Association, who is actively engaged in training utilities on water audits; they will be providing the first level of validation for the 2017 submittals. “It’s a good step forward,” said Mr. Thompson.
The Department is working to get the regulation submitted to the Office of Administrative Law, which will then be published in the register and begin a 45-day public comment period. There will be a public hearing, and then depending on the level of comments and the amount of changes that result from the comments received, they hope to be back with the final regulation in the first quarter of 2017.