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Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Implementation Moves Forward

Regulations Cover Sustainability Plan Contents
and Approval Procedures

On May 18th, the California Water Commission moved the state closer to implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) by adopting final regulations that will guide the content, preparation process, and evaluation/approval procedures of Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) developed by local groundwater agencies. The Commission, a nine-member board appointed by the Governor, advises the Department of Water Resources (DWR), approves rules and regulations, and helps formulate state policies for integrated and sustainable water resources management. We want to help share the news of this important event with those in the environmental, natural resources, and planning professions.

Enacted by Governor Brown in September 2014, SGMA creates a regulatory framework for sustainable management of the state’s critical groundwater resources. Groundwater provides a third of California’s water during average years and it contributes 60 percent or more of water supplies in some regions during droughts. Overdrafting of aquifers has recently lowered groundwater levels to the deepest ever recorded in parts of the Central Valley, which has caused land subsidence that can damage bridges, aqueducts, roads, and piplelines.

Curtis E. Alling, AICP
916.930.3181 / vCard

Sean Bechta
Senior Project Manger
916.930.3180 / vCard
The GSP regulations are a major accomplishment. They provide state guidance to local Sustainable Groundwater Agencies (SGAs) about how to prepare and secure approval of the plans that will direct their infrastructure development and operational actions for sound groundwater management. The regulations consist of the following articles:
  1. Introductory Provisions
  2. Definitions
  3. Technical and Reporting Standards (e.g., for monitoring and data)
  4. Procedures (e.g., for notifications, reporting, and plan amendments)
  5. Plan Contents (e.g., basin descriptions, management criteria, action definition)
  6. Department Evaluation and Assessment (e.g., plan review procedures, criteria for approval)
  7. Annual Reports and Periodic Evaluations (e.g., reporting requirements)
  8. Interagency Agreements (e.g., intra-basin and inter-basin agreements)
  9. Alternatives (e.g., evaluation of alternatives to GSPs)
All over California, formation of SGAs by local agencies has been underway. Key upcoming milestones on the SGMA implementation timeline include DWR’s release of best management practices for sustainable groundwater management in early 2017 and final establishment of GSAs by local agencies before June 30, 2017 for high and medium priority basins (or the state may designate an agency). GSAs for high and medium priority basins with critical overdraft will have about two-and-a-half to three years to prepare and gain approval of their GSPs, with a statutory deadline of January 31, 2020.

SGMA implementation has environmental, natural resources, and planning implications well beyond the groundwater field. GSP adoption is statutorily exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review; however, infrastructure needed for plan implementation is subject to normal CEQA compliance rules. Groundwater/surface water interactions may have important biological impacts, including habitat conditions and special-status species issues. Planned land use changes in communities within a GSA’s jurisdiction may affect groundwater demand considered for a GSP.

SGMA implementation activities will continue apace for the next few years. If you have questions about the GSP regulations and how they may affect environmental, natural resources, and planning issues, please feel free to contact Ascent Principal Curtis E. Alling, AICP at (916) 930-3181 or Senior Environmental Project Manager Sean Bechta at (916) 930-3180.
Ascent Environmental is a dynamic environmental, natural resources, and planning consultancy with offices in Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, Bay Area, and San Diego. We offer our extensive CEQA and NEPA, urban design and planning, climate adaptation and GHG reduction planning, and biological sciences experience with the goal of providing personal service and high-quality results to our clients on their most important projects. We are certified as a small business and women-owned business enterprise.

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