Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
Not directly. Sustainable groundwater management, much like management of surface water resources, is the result of a long-term vision and commitment by one or more water users or communities. That said, after California faced several consecutive years of drought, the need to manage groundwater was made more relevant than ever. Some of our groundwater basins reached an all-time historic low, revealing the need to create a framework for appropriate oversight to ensure a process to maintain and actively monitor and manage basins at the local level, and reduce impacts seen from overuse of groundwater resources.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, signed into law in 2014, provides a framework for long-term sustainable groundwater management across California. It requires that local and regional authorities in the medium- and high-priority groundwater basins form a locally-controlled and governed Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), to prepare and implement a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).
Over many years, California water managers, individual well owners, and communities that rely on groundwater resources observed a rapid decline of water levels in some aquifers.* For example, some wells in California experienced declines in excess of 10 feet during the drought and increases in groundwater pumping exacerbated some areas of land subsidence, which also threatens infrastructure such as roads, canals and bridges. In January 2014, the Governor’s Office identified groundwater management as one of ten key action steps in its California Water Action Plan. SGMA, signed into law months later, follows up on that action, giving local agencies the ability to manage their respective basins following statewide guidelines.
*An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, rock fractures or unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, or silt) from which groundwater can be extracted using a water well.
Following passage of SGMA, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) identified high- and medium-priority basins and subbasins that had been experiencing critical groundwater overdraft or were exhibiting the potential to be in overdraft due to, in part, population growth. Among the subbasins with the potential for groundwater overdraft is the North American Subbasin, an area that includes portions of northern Sacramento County, eastern Sutter County and western Placer County.
While DWR identified the North American Subbasin as a high-priority region due to its population trends, the groundwater resources in our region are robust and have been effectively managed for long-term resilience. This has included development of the Western Placer County Groundwater Management Plan (WPCGMP) in 2007, a joint effort by the cities of Roseville and Lincoln, Placer County Water Agency, and California American Water Company. Developed in response to the Groundwater Management Act of 1992, the WPCGMP created policy alignment and a monitoring program for a portion of the North American groundwater basin underlying West Placer.
The West Placer GSA is a multi-agency effort that includes the original WPCGMP partners and Placer County. California American Water Company, a water corporation regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, will not be a member but will participate in all activities. These agencies met the statutory deadline to form a GSA and collectively manage the western Placer County portion of the North American Subbasin that underlies the jurisdictional/service boundaries of each member agency (see map). The public will be invited to comment on formation of the West Placer GSA as part of a notification process to DWR. Additional responsibilities of the West Placer GSA are to coordinate with other North American Subbasin GSAs and to create and implement the GSP for the subbasin.
During the passage of SGMA, the legislature placed a high value on active involvement by groundwater users in planning for and preserving our shared natural resource. Among the requirements in SGMA is development of a list of interested parties (Water Code §10723.2) and an explanation of how their interests will be considered in development and operation of the GSA and the development and implementation of the agency’s sustainability plan. The West Placer GSA team wants to understand and utilize ideas from the groundwater user stakeholders before the development of the GSA and GSP.
The SGMA provides a framework for the improved management of groundwater supplies by local authorities and it specifically limits state intervention provided that local agencies develop and implement GSPs as required by the legislation. Under SGMA, local agencies now have tools and authorities some agencies previously lacked to sustainably manage groundwater.
Under a limited set of circumstances, the State Water Board may step in to help protect local groundwater resources. The process of State Water Board intervention is sometimes referred to as the State Backstop or State Intervention, and only occurs if local efforts to form a GSA or prepare a viable GSP are not successful.
The West Placer GSA partners are committed to maintaining local control and managing groundwater resources on behalf of our rural and urban communities, and the environment.
Groundwater Sustainability Agency
A groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) is one or more local governmental agencies that implement the provisions of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). A local agency is defined as one that has water supply, water management or land management authority. GSAs assess the conditions of their local basins, adopt locally-based sustainable management plans to create drought resiliency, and improve coordination between land use and groundwater planning.
The West Placer Groundwater Sustainability Agency includes the cities of Roseville and Lincoln, Placer County Water Agency, and Placer County.
California American Water, and similar companies that provide water utility service, is recognized in SGMA as special entity that is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), but it is not an official member of the West Placer GSA. CPUC–regulated water utilities have an important imperative to manage and sustain water supplies on behalf of their customers. SGMA encourages CPUC-regulated utilities to participate in the management of groundwater basins in their service areas and to share their technical, financial and managerial expertise. Prior to SGMA, CPUC-regulated utilities were regularly parties to the adjudication of groundwater basins and serve on the managing watermaster boards.
Forming the GSA required start-up costs, and developing and implementing a groundwater sustainability plan (GSP) will require ongoing funding. The West Placer agencies utilized staff from each agency to perform initial activities and will take advantage of grants and other funding opportunities, such as Proposition 1 bond funds, to help create and implement a GSP. The agencies have already acquired technical consultant services to help with the formation of the GSA and GSP development, and public participation and outreach technical assistance through a program offered by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).
The agencies also share costs for developing and implementing the GSP.
Local GSAs can choose to implement as many of the legal powers as they deem necessary for management of their basin. SGMA as currently enacted empowers all GSAs to:
- Adopt rules, regulations, ordinances, and resolutions to implement the Act
- Monitor compliance and enforcement
- Require registration of groundwater wells
- Require appropriate measurement devices and reporting of extractions
- Investigate, appropriate, and acquire surface water rights, groundwater, and groundwater rights into the GSA;
- Acquire or augment local water supplies to enhance the sustainability of the groundwater basin
- Propose and collect fees
- Adopt and fund a groundwater sustainability plan according to existing laws
GSAs may use a number of management tools to achieve sustainability goals. The specific tools and methods a GSA will use to achieve sustainability will be determined in discussion with stakeholders and identified in the GSP.
It is also important to note that SGMA requires local agencies to acknowledge GSPs when a legislative body is adopting or substantially amending its General Plan. General Plans must accurately reflect the information in the GSP with regards to available water supplies.
As public entities, local agencies joined to form a GSA. As we embark on the development and implementation of the GSP, agencies that comprise the WPGSA will ensure that items related to the WPGSA are regularly noticed public meetings. WPGSA conduct workshops and create other opportunities for input.
WPGSA is working under a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). An MOA is a legal agreement describing a cooperative relationship between two or more parties wishing to work together on a project, all while retaining their autonomy. Agreements to form the GSA were approved by each agency’s governing board or council.
If our groundwater is already being well managed, why is the North American Subbasin underlying West Placer considered a “high priority” area for the establishment of a GSA?
The ranking of groundwater basins/subbasins is based on numerous factors, including projected future demands and existing basin conditions such as overdraft. The groundwater basin underlying West Placer is not in critical overdraft or considered “stressed” compared to many other basins in the state. Nonetheless, DWR has classified the basin as “high priority” because of the regional potential for future growth. Placer County has been one of California’s fastest-growing counties for 25 years.
DWR is the agency responsible for oversight of the GSAs and GSPs preparation, but the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) and California Water Commission also have roles in SGMA implementation. DWR has a list of regulations, objectives and actions formulated to assist local agencies and GSAs with the preparation and implementation of GSPs. Under law, all regulations adopted by DWR only become effective upon approval by the California Water Commission. Under a limited set of circumstances, the Water Board may intervene if local efforts to form a GSA or prepare a viable GSP are not successful.
Formation of a GSA does not affect the ability of local water managers and water users to get through a drought. SGMA allows local managers time to get on the path of sustainability, and it recognizes that implementation of local groundwater sustainability plans may take up to 20 years.
The regulations require that all GSAs coordinate with adjacent GSAs in a given basin. This coordination will occur through additional discussions with neighboring agencies as GSAs are formally developed, and the GSPs will describe how the adjacent GSAs will work together to achieve groundwater sustainability for the entire basin.
Not directly. However, this new groundwater management framework acknowledges the connectivity of surface water and groundwater, and that they are to be managed as “a single resource,” as a number of agencies have already been doing. In the Sacramento region, including Placer County, groundwater and surface water sources have already been managed this way for decades. Under the region’s Water Forum Agreement conjunctive use* principles and each local agency’s General Plan descriptions for water use are a cornerstone of regional water management.
*Conjunctive use is the practice of storing surface water in a groundwater basin in wet years and withdrawing it from the basin in dry years. Conjunctive use consists of harmoniously combining the use of both surface water and groundwater in order to minimize the undesirable physical, environmental and economic effects of each solution and to optimize the water demand/supply balance.
No. However, the City of Roseville’s ASR program is part of the Western Placer County Groundwater Management Plan and will likely be recognized by the GSA and the GSP. This program could be used and expanded in the future as part of implementing the GSP. Roseville’s ASR program is a groundwater storage strategy that injects drinking water into groundwater aquifers via a series of wells during periods where surface water supplies are plentiful. This program provides Roseville rate payers drought and emergency water supply protections.
Groundwater Sustainability Plan
The WPGSA is just one of five GSAs in the North American Subbasin. The five GSAs (West Placer, Sacramento, South Sutter, Sutter County, and Recreation District 1001) have agreed to work together and prepare one GSP for the entire Subbasin.
A GSP is the plan developed by a groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) that provides for sustainably managed groundwater that meets the requirements of the state’s new groundwater laws. GSAs in high- and medium-priority groundwater basins are required to submit a GSP to the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). The plan must outline how the GSA will implement, manage and measure specific actions for the health and viability of the basins. DWR will evaluate the GSP and provide the GSA with an assessment of the plan and any necessary recommendations every two years following its establishment.
Subbasins deemed to be in critical overdraft are required to complete and begin implementation of their GSP by January 31, 2020. Subbasins that are not in critical overdraft, such as the North American Subbasin, shall complete and begin implementation by January 31, 2022.
The five GSAs will share the cost, which will be allocated by acreage. The Department of Water Resources has allocated $1 million in grant funding for this GSP, which will cover about half the estimated cost. The grant requires a 50 percent cost-share by each GSA. The West Placer GSA share of this is approximately $241,000.
Yes. Under the requirements of SGMA, GSAs must “consider interests of all beneficial uses and users of groundwater”. GSP Regulations require that during GSP preparation, GSAs must provide opportunities for the public to be engaged and actively involved. GSAs must document in the GSP how they accomplished that.
Data collected over many years indicates the North American Subbasin is in good health. The basin is sustainably managed by several agencies and data shows groundwater levels have increased over time due to regional conjunctive use efforts. The recent drought, however, reduced some groundwater levels because lower precipitation resulted in reduced recharge to the groundwater basin. In similar drought situations of years past, the groundwater levels have returned to normal levels over time.