Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

What is the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)?


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), which will prepare and implement a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).

Is SGMA related to the drought?

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, now that California has faced several consecutive years of drought, the need to manage groundwater is more relevant than ever. Some of our groundwater basins have reached an all-time historic low. Creating a framework for appropriate oversight ensures process to maintain and actively monitor and manage basins at the local level, and reduce impacts seen from overuse of groundwater resources.

Why was the SGMA established?

Over the years, California water managers, individual well owners, and communities that rely on groundwater resources have observed a rapid decline of water levels in some aquifers.[1] Impacts and issues related to the decline are apparent. For example, some wells in California have experienced declines in excess of 10 feet during the drought and increases in groundwater pumping have 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.

[1] 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.

What does SGMA mean for Placer County?

Following passage of SGMA, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) identified high- and medium-priority basin and subbasins that have been experiencing critical groundwater overdraft or are 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. This subbasin, as well as all other subbasins in California, is defined by DWR in Bulletin 118.

How does SGMA affect groundwater in West Placer?

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.

What is the proposed West Placer GSA?

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 have agreed to form the West Placer GSA by the statutory deadline and will 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 will be coordination with other North American Subbasin GSAs and to create and implement the GSP for the subbasin.

How are groundwater users involved?

During 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 desires to understand and utilize ideas from the groundwater user stakeholders before the development of the GSA and GSP.

Is the state trying to take over control of groundwater?

That depends on whether local agencies answer the requirements of SGMA. The Act provides a framework for the improved management of groundwater supplies by local authorities. In fact, 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 manage groundwater resources sustainably.

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.

If local agencies fail to form a GSA by July 1, 2017 local groundwater users must begin reporting groundwater use to the State Water Resources Control Board. State Intervention requirements then remain in place until local efforts are able to sustainably manage groundwater resources. 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

What is a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA)?

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.

Which agencies might be involved in establishing a GSA for Western Placer County?

Members seeking to form the West Placer Groundwater Sustainability Agency include cities of Roseville and Lincoln, Placer County Water Agency, and Placer County. California American Water Company has expressed interest in participating.

California American Water is a private company. Why are they included in the GSA for Western Placer County?

California American Water and similar companies that provide water utility service are recognized in SGMA as special entities that are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). 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. In Placer County, California American Water was involved in the development of the Western Placer Groundwater Management Plan in 2007.

When will the GSAs be formed?

All GSAs must be formed by June 30, 2017.

What costs will be associated with forming and administering a GSA?

Forming a GSA and then developing and implementing a groundwater sustainability plan (GSP) will require both start-up and ongoing costs. The West Placer agencies will utilize 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. To date, 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).

As part of the GSA formation, the agencies will also determine how to share costs for developing and implementing the GSP.

What authority will GSAs have?

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.

Will stakeholders or the public have the opportunity to weigh in on the GSA formation process or GSP?

As public entities, the local agencies joining together to form a GSA will review the formation process and GSP adoption process as part of their regularly noticed public meetings. The agencies also anticipate conducting workshops and creating other opportunities for input.

What will be the governance structure for the proposed GSA? How will the agencies work together to run it?

Agency staff is currently evaluating governance structures for the GSA including use of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), a Joint Powers Agreement (JPa) or a Joint Powers Authority (JPA). 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. A JPa is a legal agreement where two or more public agencies agree to share jurisdictional powers common to each agency via the Joint Exercise of Powers Act. A JPa can be carried out with or without the formation of a JPA, but a JPa need not create a new separate legal entity. In certain circumstances, parties to a JPa desire to create a new entity, a JPA, to carry out a JPa. Staff will present an analysis of the options with a recommendation for the best approach for consideration by their respective governing boards or councils. This process will ensure the agencies have a shared understanding of the goals and objectives for the GSA, and the resulting governance structure selected will provide the broadest benefits to participants. Any agreement to form the GSA must be approved by each agency’s governing board or council. The public will be invited to comment on the proposed governance structures a part of the processes before each board and council.

If our groundwater is already being well managed, why is the North American Groundwater Basin underlying West Placer considered a “high priority” area for the establishment of a GSA?

The ranking of groundwater basins/subbasins is based on a 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, and its population is projected to roughly double by 2060.

If GSAs are locally controlled, what is the state’s role in this effort?

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.

Will the GSA take away the ability of growers to pump groundwater if drought continues?

Formation of a GSA will 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.

How will adjacent GSAs be handled?

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.

Does the GSA impact surface water?

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[1] principles and each local agency’s General Plan descriptions for water use are a cornerstone of regional water management.

[1] 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.

Will aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) efforts be impacted by SGMA or the formation of a GSA?

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

What is the WPGSA’s plan for preparing the GSP?

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. Subbasin that are not in critical overdraft, such as the North American Subbasin, shall complete and begin implementation by January 31, 2022.

Who pays for preparation of the GSP?

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 and will cover about half the estimated cost.  The grant requires a 50 percent cost share.  The WPGSA share of this is approximately $241,000.

Will the public have a say in this process?

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 much document in the GSP how they accomplished that.

What is the health of our current groundwater basins?

Data collected over many years indicates the North American groundwater 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, has reduced some groundwater levels because lower precipitation has resulted in reduced recharge to the groundwater basin. In similar droughts situations of years past, the groundwater levels have returned to normal levels over time.