The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA) sets the framework for statewide long-term sustainable groundwater management by local water and land use authorities. It requires the formation of new groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) in medium and high-priority, critically overdrafted basins and subbasins. SGMA defines a basin that is critically overdrafted as “when continuation of present water management practices would probably result in significant adverse overdraft-related environmental, social, or economic impacts.”  GSAs overlying high-priority, critically-overdrafted basins are tasked with assessing the groundwater conditions and adopting local groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) by the year 2040. SGMA provides for limited state intervention only when a GSA is not formed and / or fails to develop and implement a GSP that will result in groundwater sustainability within 20 years.

SGMA defines sustainable groundwater management as the management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon that does not cause the following undesirable results:

  • Chronic lowering of groundwater levels
  • Reductions in groundwater storage
  • Seawater intrusion
  • Degraded water quality
  • Land subsidence
  • Surface water depletions that have adverse impacts on beneficial uses

GSAs are empowered to utilize a number of new management tools to achieve the sustainability goal. For example, GSAs may require registration of groundwater wells, mandate annual extraction reports from individual wells, impose limits on extractions, and assess fees to support creation and adoption of a GSP. GSAs also may request a revision of a groundwater basin boundary, including the establishment of new subbasins.

Three GSAs have been formed in the Kaweah Subbasin by local public agencies (county, cities, water districts, public utility and community service districts) that have jurisdiction over the lands in the subbasin. Those local agencies that participate in a GSA will represent the pumpers that reside within the local agencies’ jurisdictional boundaries. The three GSAs have also formed various committees and advisory boards to which many non-public agency representatives of groundwater pumpers have been appointed.

A Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) is required by law to be prepared and implemented by high- and medium-priority basin GSA’s. Basins designated by the State as medium- or high-priority and critically overdrafted are required to complete a GSP by January 31, 2020. The GSP is a roadmap for how a basin will avoid the adverse effects of overdraft and achieve balanced levels of groundwater to reach sustainability.

GSAs in the Kaweah Subbasin will have 20 years to achieve sustainability. GSA’s are empowered to utilize a number of new management tools to achieve the sustainability goal.  The tools used to accomplish sustainability may include supply side methods, like additional groundwater recharge, and/or demand side methods, like limits on groundwater pumping. Until the GSA’s have completed their GSPs that are due by the year 2020, it is not known what combination of management tools will be needed.

The decision regarding whether you can drill a new well is under the authority of the county in which you reside. The law does not authorize a GSA to issue permits for the construction, modification, or abandonment of groundwater wells, except as authorized by a county with authority to issue those permits. A GSA may request of the county, and the county shall consider, that the county forward permit requests for the construction of new groundwater wells, the enlarging of existing groundwater wells, and the reactivation of abandoned groundwater wells to the GSA before permit approval.

No. SGMA does not alter surface water rights or groundwater rights under common law or any provision of law that determines or grants surface water rights. Groundwater rights will continue to be subject to regulation under article 10, section 2, of the California Constitution.

SGMA requires that the Kaweah Subbasin be managed and use groundwater in a manner that is sustainable. This will require that the three overlying GSAs in the region measure and monitor groundwater levels to meet the sustainability requirements of the law. Metering wells is one of several methods that GSA’s can use to monitor groundwater. Until GSPs are completed in the year 2020, it is not known what methods will be used to measure and monitor groundwater.

While the total cost is not yet known, implementing SGMA is not expected to be cheap. A GSA has the power to impose fees on landowners and pumpers within its jurisdiction, including, but not limited to, permit fees and fees on groundwater extraction to fund the costs of a groundwater sustainability program. Costs include but are not limited to, preparation, adoption, and amendment of a groundwater sustainability plan, and investigations, inspections, compliance assistance, enforcement and program administration. GSAs in the Kaweah Subbasin have already been successful in obtaining grants to offset initial GSP development costs and will continue to pursue additional grant opportunities as they become available.

The three GSAs within the Kaweah Subbasin all hold regular committee and board meetings which are open to the public. They each maintain their own websites which include important documents, information and current announcements, and maintain e-mail distribution lists for noticing of meetings, workshops and documents available for public comment.

Last updated 11/21/18

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