The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, known as SGMA, is comprehensive statewide groundwater legislation that went into effect Jan. 1, 2015. SGMA requires for the first time sustainable groundwater management throughout California. The legislation allows local agencies to develop Groundwater Sustainability Plans specific to local conditions, however, if local agencies cannot or will not manage groundwater sustainably, the state will step in.
SGMA mandates that all high and medium priority groundwater basins in California must be managed sustainably over a 20-year implementation period. In Colusa County we have two groundwater basins subject to SGMA: the Colusa subbasin and the West Butte subbasin. Both basins span multiple counties and SGMA implementation efforts must be coordinated basin-wide. Cooperation and coordination among agencies and landowners is crucial to successful SGMA implementation, and to maintaining local control over our groundwater resources.
What is sustainability?
Sustainable groundwater management is defined as the management and use of groundwater without causing undesirable results. The California Department of Water Resources has developed Groundwater Sustainability Plan Regulations which define six “Sustainability Indicators” for undesirable results. These conditions must be avoided for a basin to be considered sustainable:
1. Significant and Unreasonable reductions in Groundwater Levels
2. Significant and Unreasonable reductions in Groundwater Storage
3. Significant and Unreasonable Land Subsidence
4. Significant and Unreasonable reductions in Groundwater Quality
5. Significant and Unreasonable reductions in Groundwater-Surface Water Interaction
6. Significant and Unreasonable Seawater Intrusion (we do not have to address this criteria in Colusa County)
Since groundwater conditions vary greatly throughout the state, “significant and unreasonable” is defined at the basin level by local agencies.
Who will be in charge?
SGMA requires formation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, which will be responsible for developing and implementing Groundwater Sustainability Plans. Only local public agencies with water supply, water management or land use responsibilities are eligible to be a GSA. These agencies include counties, cities, irrigation and reclamation districts, and public utility districts, or similar. GSAs will have many authorities and responsibilities related to SGMA.
Private landowners are not eligible to be a GSA. Counties are presumed to be the GSA over the “white areas,” or “private pumper” areas, which are areas of the county that are not covered by another GSA-eligible agency (city, irrigation district, etc.). This can be seen as problematic because the legislation does not give landowners in the private pumper areas a voice, yet these landowners rely on groundwater as their sole source of irrigation, which makes them key players in successful groundwater management.
Colusa County has given our private pumpers a greater voice in SGMA planning and implementation by forming a Private Pumper Advisory Committee (PPAC). The PPAC is made up of 7 members and 3 alternates. Members of the PPAC are private pumper individuals from throughout the County, chosen by the Colusa County Groundwater Commission. The PPAC acts as advisory to the County regarding concerns and issues of the private pumpers, and they are also responsible for providing SGMA outreach to their neighbors. PPAC members have been actively involved in Colusa County’s SGMA planning efforts.
In order to determine local governance, GSA-eligible agencies in Colusa County have been meeting over the last several months to determine how/if they want to participate in governance. “Efforts are underway now in Colusa County to determine a local GSA structure, including which agencies will participate in SGMA implementation,” said Mary Fahey, Colusa County Water Resources Coordinator. Fahey went on to say, “Things are starting to move quickly and now is the time for landowners to become engaged in local SGMA planning efforts. All of our meetings are open to the public, and our website is a great resource where you can find meeting agendas, presentations and summaries, as well as general information on SGMA.”
The county would like to remind its citizens that SGMA affects every well owner in California, which is why it is so important for the general public to be informed. Colusa County Supervisor, Denise Carter said, “SGMA planning efforts have been taking place in Colusa County over the past year and a half, and important governance decisions will be made over the next few months. I highly encourage landowners to participate in this process by attending our public meetings and staying informed.”
• June 30, 2017: GSAs must be formed in all high and medium priority groundwater basins
• Jan. 31, 2022: Groundwater Sustainability Plans must be completed for all high and medium priority basins that are not in overdraft (Jan. 31, 2020 for basins in overdraft).
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