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The formation of local agencies to manage groundwater resources in California is the first of several steps under the state's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Most make first SGMA deadline in California

Over 99 percent of those required to form agencies under California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act have done so

Nearly all of California’s groundwater basins deemed medium and high priorities by the state met their June deadline to form groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs).

The deadline is part of the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which seeks to manage groundwater supplies throughout the state by reducing the amount of pumping that can take place. The law came amidst the state’s recent drought as lawmakers reacted to dwindling groundwater supplies after the state’s surface water supplies either dried up or their use curtailed by regulators.

“Groundwater accounts for a third of the state’s water supply on average and serves as a critically important source in dry years,” said California Department of Water Resources Director Grant Davis. “It’s encouraging to see such a strong commitment from land owners and communities to manage this critical water source now and for future generations.”

According to the Department of Water Resources, more than 99 percent of those regions deemed at least a medium priority by state officials submitted their paperwork to form GSAs.

Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said the reaction by a large portion of the state suggests that people are taking the legal requirement to form these agencies seriously. Those who do not form agencies or are otherwise exempt from them, will have their groundwater supplies regulated by the state.

“This is a signal accomplishment that required the leadership of myriad Californians who care about the future of their communities,” said Marcus. “The successful formation of so many GSAs doesn’t by any means mean that this was easy. It was really hard – and it’s a great down payment on the hard work to come as GSAs move into developing their management plans.”

SGMA required formation of locally controlled GSAs in the state’s 127 high- and medium-priority groundwater basins by June 30. By late August, 99 percent of the basins in that category are now covered by a local GSA, groundwater adjudication, or an alternative sustainability plan, according to state officials.

For the remaining basins that did not meet the GSA formation deadline, the State Water Board sent letters to property owners to identify if there are active wells drawing groundwater that must be reported to the state. Portions of basins not covered by a GSA, adjudication, or alternative plan are considered unmanaged areas. Groundwater extractions made from an unmanaged area must be reported to the state.

The locations of unmanaged areas can be viewed on the unmanaged area identification map

The next step for GSAs is to create and implement groundwater sustainability plans that describe needed actions and implementation measures to bring their basins into balanced levels of pumping and recharge in the timeframe outlined in SGMA. SGMA allows GSAs to tailor plans to the economic and environmental needs of the regions, and provides tools and authorities for developing projects and regulating groundwater use to meet the GSA’s sustainability goals.

Basins identified as critically overdrafted are required to have sustainability plans in place by Jan. 31, 2020. All other high- and medium-priority basins have until Jan. 31, 2022, to adopt plans.

The plans will be reviewed by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and will be continuously updated to ensure sustainable management of the state’s groundwater by the year 2042.

To assist with the development of groundwater sustainability plans, DWR will provide important information and data, technical and non-technical assistance, best practices, guidance publications and grant funding opportunities that may be crucial to a plan’s success. In addition, DWR staff will present sustainability plan workshops for GSAs around the state. The first is scheduled for Sept. 20, 2017 in the Fresno area. Information on all of DWR’s SGMA resources and activities is available online.at http://www.water.ca.gov/groundwater/sgm/index.cfm.

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