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Primer on State Groundwater Management Act

Credit to Marcus Trotta of the Sonoma County Water Agency for providing this info which I have mostly copied verbatim.

The 2014 State Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) took effect on 1/1/15. There is a preference for management by local agencies; locally managed agencies will have additional authorities. The State can step in and regulate unmanaged or poorly managed basins.

Groundwater is essential to CA: 38% of state’s average annual water supply, up to 60% of annual supply in dry years, drinking water for more than 80% of state residents.

State Department of Water Resources (DWR) prioritizes basins based on criteria such as population, irrigated agriculture using groundwater. 125 of 515 basins statewide are medium/ high priority. SGMA is elective for low priority basins.

In Sonoma County there are three medium priority basins: Sonoma Valley, Santa Rosa, and Petaluma.

What are the steps to groundwater sustainability? Step One: form Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) by 6/30/17; Step Two: for medium priority basins, develop Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) by 1//31/22; Step Three: achieve sustainability 20 years after adoption of GSP.

Who will be the GSA? An existing local agency that supplies water, manages water or controls land use. Counties are the default GSA in unmanaged areas. There can be more than one GSA in a basin. In Sonoma Valley, possible GSAs are the City of Sonoma, the Valley of the Moon Water District, Sonoma County, the Sonoma County Water Agency, and North Bay Water District (formed in 1963, does not have facilities or provide service, BOD meets once a year). These agencies could individually or in combination be the GSA for Sonoma Valley. There could be multiple GSAs per basin, one GSA per basin or even one GSA for the whole county.

In forming a GSA there must be a robust public process where “all interests of all beneficial water uses and users of groundwater” are included: agriculture, domestic users, public and private water systems, tribes, environmental users, disadvantaged communities etc.

What is sustainable management? “Management and use of groundwater that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results”. SGMA defines undesirable results as one or more of the following occurring in a significant and unreasonable manner: chronic lowering of groundwater levels indicating depletion of supply, reductions in groundwater storage, seawater intrusion, degraded water quality, land subsidence, surface water depletions that adversely impact beneficial uses.

New GSPs require a 50 year planning horizon, 20 years to reach sustainability, physical description of basin, measurable objectives, interim milestones, monitoring and management, plan exempt from CEQA.

New management authorities under SGMA: GSAs have discretionary authority to: conduct studies, register and monitor wells, set well spacing requirements, require extraction reporting, regulate extractions, implement capital projects, assess fees to cover costs.

Land use planning statutory requirements: GSAs must: notify cities, county of hearings to adopt GSP, take into account local general plan assumptions, be consistent with general plans if adopting any regulations on groundwater extraction that effects sustainability.

Land use agencies have to notify GSAs of any proposal to substantially amend a general plan, review and consider any adopted GSP when amending a general plan.

GSAs cannot supersede land use authority of cities and counties.

Key point: legislative intent to “respect overlying and other proprietary rights to groundwater. SGMA does not change existing surface water rights or groundwater rights, Water Bond includes $100 million for groundwater sustainability.

SGMA will change many things for groundwater: no longer voluntary, measurable objectives that will achieve sustainability, new authorities granted GSAs, state review of GSPs, state intervention now possible.

Sonoma County SGMA challenges: will collaboration under the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Management Program (SVGMP) continue? How will interested parties such as agriculture, rural-residential well owners, environmental users, disadvantaged communities, and domestic users (renters) etc. be represented? Will local agencies work together? How will tension between resource protection, competing water demands and water rights be resolved? How will impacts to surface water from groundwater pumping be addressed? How will basin boundary issues be resolved? How will GSA formation and initial activities be funded?

Contact SCWA to find out what Sonoma County SGMA stakeholder outreach and public info activities are happening now.

General principles for developing GSA governance options: local agencies work together to identify unified and equitable approach, management decisions made at local level, share resources across basins, build on existing successful water management efforts, involve community stakeholders, provide a robust and transparent outreach program.

Sonoma County possible GSA governance options: one, disaggregated, separate basin-specific GSAs; two, centralized, one countywide GSA; three, hybrid using countywide resources with basin-specific management decisions.

County has retained Gina Bartlett as facilitator for stakeholder assessment; based on tis assessment, Gina will recommend a process for development of GSA governance options and stakeholder outreach; Gina will return to county Board of Supervisors/ SCWA Board of Directors to consider governance process, governance development process will be initiated upon approval by local agency governing bodies.

SVGMP will remain in effect until new GSPs developed. Sonoma valley groundwater declines will continue to be addressed. Increase community awareness of SGMA.

Resources can be found at sonomacountywater.org/sgma and scwa.ca.gov/svgroundwater/

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