Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

Background

In September 2014, California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), requiring that groundwater basins throughout the state be managed by local agencies that are responsible for developing Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) if a basin has been designated as medium or high priority by the Department of Water Resources. The Big Valley groundwater basin has been designated as medium priority and therefore must develop a GSP.

As outlined by SGMA, local agencies with the responsibility of managing a basin are referred to as Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), and can only manage portions of a basin within their jurisdiction. In the Big Valley Basin, Modoc and Lassen Counties are working collaboratively to meet SGMA requirements. Modoc County has filed with the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to be the GSA for the Modoc County portion of the basin, and Lassen County has filed to be the GSA for the Lassen County portion of the basin. The Lassen and Modoc GSAs are working together to develop a GSP for the entirety of the basin by January 31, 2022, the deadline for GSP submittal to DWR. Failure to develop a GSP by January 31, 2022 will cause the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to step in and manage the basin, at a substantially higher cost than local management.

GSPs have a number of components identified by law and regulation. The key goal of a GSP is to identify what sustainable conditions are for the Basin. Sustainable conditions will be based on gathering data, performing studies, and implementing projects to determine if the basin has, or will have in the future, any undesirable results for six sustainability indicators, as required in SGMA. The six sustainability indicators are:  

  • Chronic lowering of groundwater levels;
  • Reduction of groundwater storage;
  • Seawater intrusion;
  • Water quality degradation;
  • Land subsidence; and
  • Depletion of interconnected streams.

The Modoc and Lassen GSAs have submitted applications for Proposition 1 grant funding from DWR to offset the bulk of the cost of developing the GSP.  This funding has recently been approved and work on the GSP will begin once the state funds become available, as early as July 2018.

Sustainable Groundwater Management Act:

The SGMA is codified as Part 2.74 (Sustainable Groundwater Management Act) of the California Water Code (Section 10720 et seq).  The regulations adopted to enforce the provisions of the Act are found in Section 350 et seq, Division 2, Chapter 1.5, Subchapter 2 of Title 23 of the California Code of Regulations.  The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) became effective January 1, 2015. More information can be found on DWR’s website.

In Lassen County, the Act pertains to the Big Valley Groundwater Basin, which has been designated as a “medium priority” basin by the DWR.  This designation as a medium priority basin requires preparation of a GSP under the Act.  All other groundwater basins in Lassen County, other than Big Valley, are currently designated as “low” or “very low”.  This means that, at least for now, no actions are required pursuant to SGMA for any basin other than Big Valley. More information about DWR’s basin prioritization can be found here.

The SGMA was created to ensure groundwater basins throughout the state are managed to reliably meet the needs of all users, while mitigating changes in the quality and quantity of groundwater. The intent of the Act as described in section 10720.1 of the Water Code is to:

  • Provide for the sustainable management of groundwater basins.
  • Enhance local management of groundwater consistent with rights to use or store groundwater.
  • Establish minimum standards for sustainable groundwater management.
  • Provide local groundwater agencies with the authority and the technical and financial assistance necessary to sustainably manage groundwater.
  • Avoid or minimize subsidence.
  • Improve data collection and understanding about groundwater.
  • Increase groundwater storage and remove impediments to recharge.
  • Manage groundwater basins through the action of local governmental agencies to the greatest extent feasible, while minimizing state intervention to only when necessary to ensure that local agencies manage groundwater in a sustainable manner.

The role of the GSA is to create a GSP and then to implement and enforce that plan. The plan must include measurable objectives that can be used to demonstrate the basin is sustainably managed within 20 years of implementation.

Role of the Counties:

The Board of Supervisors directed staff to pursue a single plan covering the entire Big Valley Groundwater Basin developed and implemented by both the Lassen and Modoc GSAs. 

The role of the two GSAs is to create a GSP and then to implement and enforce said plan. The plan must include measurable objectives (developed by the GSAs) that can be used to demonstrate the basin is sustainably managed within 20 years of implementation. The Act gives the GSA many authorities including the ability to adopt rules regulations, ordinances and resolutions; conduct investigations; impose fees; require well registration, wellhead metering, monitoring, and reporting; allocating groundwater production; taking enforcement actions; and control groundwater extraction by regulating, limiting or suspending extractions from wells. It is up to the GSA which (if any) authorities will be exercised.

The cost to prepare the GSP will be significant, but largely offset by Proposition 1 grant funding. However, the cost to enact and implement the Plan will be significant as well in part due to the technical requirements to understand the resource at the level of detail needed.  That said, it is anticipated that State Water Board intervention would result in much greater cost than the Counties assume responsibility as GSAs, especially considering that preparation of a GSP by a local agency is exempt (see Water Code Section 10728.6) from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) but preparation of plans by a State agency is not. Costs for the Water Board to prepare and implement a plan would be passed onto property owners.

Upcoming Activities

To ensure that communication and engagement are a central feature of the process, one of the first actions of the GSAs toward the development of a GSP will be to write Stakeholder Communication and Engagement Plan (C&E Plan). The C&E Plan will contain specific emphasis toward those who have property or live within the Big Valley Basin and those who use groundwater either agriculturally, domestically, or both. The C&E Plan will be made available to all interested parties and will document the process through which the GSAs will receive stakeholder input. This input, at a minimum, will include open meetings held in Big Valley and special public outreach opportunities that the GSAs will host during critical planning phases of the GSP.

How to Participate

Those who wish to be informed and/or involved in activities related to SGMA and groundwater management in Big Valley should join the interested parties list for one or both of the GSAs. People on the interested parties lists are under no obligations, and will receive information about GSP development periodically, including meeting announcements and opportunities to provide input and become more involved. If you would like to be included on the interested parties list for the Big Valley Basin, please visit the GSA websites or contact the counties directly at the phone numbers and email addresses listed below.

Lassen County at (530) 251-8269 and landuse@co.lassen.ca.us

Modoc County at (530) 233-6201 and tiffanymartinez@co.modoc.ca.us