DWR updates the Commissioners on the evaluation of alternative plans, basin boundary modifications, and basin prioritization
At the November meeting of the California Water Commission, staff from the Sustainable Groundwater Management Program at the Department of Water Resources updated the Commissioners on the various activities of the Department to implement Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
Taryn Ravazzini, the Deputy Director for Special Initiatives and the Executive Sponsor of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Program at the Department of Water Resources, began the presentation by noting that on January 1st of 2018, the Department established the Sustainable Groundwater Management Office, which resides within the Executive Division under Ms. Ravazzini’s management. “This represents the Department’s commitment to SGMA implementation as a priority and does allow for nimble management and direct connection to DWR Executives, both of which are necessary to meet the demands of the aggressive schedule outlined in the Act,” she said.
OVERVIEW OF SGMA
Ms. Ravazzini began with a brief overview of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act or SGMA. The central feature of the legislation is to keep groundwater management at the local level. It is the Department’s role to be not only a regulator but to assist the local entities in pulling together their groundwater sustainability management plans, she said.
“It is about helping the locals be empowered to keep that authority within their basin and within their local control,” she said. “The decision making is best left with local officials because they know their groundwater basins best and the geology is quite complex, and so not one size fits all.”
SGMA defines specific roles for three groups: The Department of Water Resources which has both regulatory and assistance roles, the State Water Resources Control Board that has an enforcing role if local agencies if they are not successful in meeting their statutory deadlines or implementing their plans, and the local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (or GSAs) who develop Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) and implement programs to achieve sustainable groundwater management.
SGMA also requires a robust stakeholder engagement process, particularly at the local level. GSAs are responsible for communicating with stakeholders and encouraging stakeholders to have a role in developing the Groundwater Sustainability Plans.
The GSPs will outline how sustainability in the basin will be achieved. SGMA defines sustainability in terms of avoiding six undesirable results: chronic lowering of groundwater levels, reduction of groundwater storage, seawater intrusion, degraded water quality, land subsidence, and surface water depletion.
As of 2016, there are 517 groundwater basins in the state of California. SGMA applies to all basins that have been identified as high or medium priority by the Department of Water Resources. The initial basin prioritization in 2014 identified 127 high and medium groundwater basins. Of those, 21 basins were identified as critically overdrafted, the majority located in the Central Valley.
Critically overdrafted basins must be managed by a GSP by January 31, 2020; all other high and medium priority basins must have their GSP in place by January 31, 2022.
The plans will be evaluated by the Department after they are first adopted, and reevaluated every five years thereafter. Annual reports will also be required following adoption of the plans. The basins must reach sustainability by 2040 or 2042; there is a 20 year planning horizon for meeting sustainability because we know it can’t happen overnight, Ms. Ravazzini said. The high and medium priority basins, as currently identified, cover 96% of groundwater use and 88% of the overlying population.
SGMA encourages every basin to be preparing Groundwater Sustainability Plans, but only requires those basins identified as high and medium priority to submit a plan to the Department. Even so, some of the low and very low basins have created GSAs and are working on developing GSPs.
SGMA required all basins identified as high or medium priority to establish a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) by July 1 of 2017. The deadline was overwhelmingly met with GSAs covering 99% of the high and medium priority basins; over 260 GSAs were formed in 140 groundwater basins. That left few unmanaged areas which then fall to the State Water Resources Control Board.
“This was a fantastic milestone to have met,” said Ms. Ravazzini. “We again have to applaud the local entities for pulling together and identifying their agencies.”
The next deadline is for Groundwater Sustainability Plans in critically overdrafted basins to be submitted completed by January 31, 2020. Ms. Ravazzini pointed out that one year is not a lot of time, and there’s a lot of public engagement required, so the clock is ticking for them. The other high and medium priority basins have until January 31, 2022 to complete their Groundwater Sustainability Plans.
She then briefly reviewed the components of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan:
The who: The plan will identify who will be working with the GSAs and who the GSA covers, as well as how they are going to communicate with those stakeholders. She emphasized that stakeholder involvement is an important part of SGMA.
The what: GSAs are required to understand and define the physical characteristics of the basin, including a hydrogeologic conceptual model and a water budget; the basin setting and understanding of the basin characteristics is a very critical component for the GSAs.
The where: GSAs have to work with stakeholders in the basin to define what sustainability is in their basins and where it will be tracked through time using a monitoring network. SGMA is outcome-based and the only way to see what those outcomes are is through a level of monitoring and data gathering throughout the time of the implementation of these plans, she said.
The how: The projects and management actions are going to be critical for achieving the outcome of sustainable management. The GSAs are required to show in their GSP how they are going to plan for sustainability within 20 years and maintain after that.
“It is through the project management and actions that we will really get a sense of not only the understanding of that basin, but also where they are looking to go with their plans,” she said. “I definitely am looking forward to seeing what those GSAs have in store.”
As originally published in Maven’s Notebook by Maven on November 20, 2018