Groundwater Agencies Formulating Plans for SGMA

Groundwater Sustainability Will Be Focus of New Rules

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Groundwater agencies up and down the state are formulating initial plans for growers in their areas to reduce overdraft pumping of groundwater as they prepare for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act regulations that will kick in around 2040. Ron Samuelian is a civil engineer with Provost and Pritchard consulting group, with offices around the state. He spoke with California Ag Today about their role as an engineering firm regarding helping growers with SGMA.

Ground Water Pumps

At the moment, a lot of the work is related to a plan. Using hydrogeology, they are figuring out the water budget, its impact, the amount of overdraft occurred, and how to monitor this in the future.

“But maybe most importantly, how are we going to fix it and what are we going to do about it? I think that is where we really come in. We understand not only ag but, urban and all of the other uses,” Samuelian said.

The goal of SGMA is to be in balance in 2040.

“In terms of sustainability over time, we have seen a decline in our water table. At a given well, the water level might bounce up and down, but the general trend has been to decline a 1 to 5 feet a year, depending on location,” Samuelian explained.

In 2040, the trend is supposed to be flat.

Report Highlights Urgent Need to Address California’s Groundwater Management

Management of California’s groundwater basins is fragmented, and many groundwater management plans are outdated and lacking important details, leaving significant room for improvement, according to a report released today by the California Water Foundation (CWF).

The report, An Evaluation of California Groundwater Management Planning, assesses the current condition of groundwater management planning in the state and makes recommendations to support sustainable management.

Lester Snow, Executive Director, California Water Foundation
Lester Snow, Executive Director, California Water Foundation

“California’s limited approach to groundwater management has been a concern for a long time, but the drought has drawn renewed attention to this increasing problem,” said Lester Snow, executive director of CWF. “Developing effective plans for how we manage this valuable resource is a crucial step to ensure that California’s farms, cities, and environment have reliable water supplies today and in the future.”

Groundwater is a critical part of California’s water supply, used to meet approximately 40 percent of the state’s water demands in an average year and up to 60 percent or more during droughts. In some regions, groundwater provides 100 percent of the local water supply. Yet, California is the only state without comprehensive statewide groundwater management programs.

The report released today reviewed 120 groundwater management plans adopted by local water agencies to manage their groundwater basins and concludes that current state groundwater management laws are inadequate. While many districts are effectively managing their groundwater resources, the report found significant limitations to the overall quality of groundwater plans in all parts of the state. Many plans lack basic basin management objectives or an implementation strategy for ensuring that objectives will be met. Most of the plans did not include or describe stakeholder outreach and participation. Additionally, 28 percent of the plans examined were written in 2002 or earlier and have not been updated.

The report makes the following recommendations to advance the development and implementation of groundwater management plans:

  • Establish a statewide goal that groundwater plans must describe how they will achieve sustainability of each groundwater basin.
  • Organize and empower local groundwater agencies to manage groundwater sub-basins.
  • Require the development and enforcement of groundwater management plans by local groundwater agencies.
  • Provide local agencies with technical guidance and financial support from the state of California.
  • Empower the state of California to oversee program implementation.

The state’s growing groundwater overdraft problems have resulted in a number of adverse consequences, including saltwater intrusion, increased energy costs due to pumping from greater depths, environmental degradation, and land subsidence that results in costly damage to infrastructure.

In May, CWF released a report of findings and recommendations to achieve sustainable groundwater management in California. Learn more at: http://www.californiawaterfoundation.org.

An Evaluation of California Groundwater Management Planning was prepared for CWF by RMC Water and Environment. The California Water Foundation’s (CWF) vision is to sustainably meet the water needs of California’s farms, cities, and environment today and into the future. CWF supports innovative projects and policies and brings together experts, stakeholders, and the public to achieve 21st century solutions.

Photo Credit: CDFA