WESTERN GROUNDWATER CONGRESS: Depletion of interconnected surface waters: Not that simple

Sierra Ryan is a water resources planner with the County of Santa Cruz.  In this presentation from the Groundwater Resources Association‘s 2019 Western Groundwater Congress, Ms. Ryan tells the story of how the Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Agency balanced the various perspectives, authorities, and interpretations of the DWR regulations in writing the portion of their Groundwater Sustainability Plan that pertained to the depletion of interconnected surface water (sustainability indicator or undesirable result #6).

I promise you that it was not as simple as we thought it was to begin with, so for those of you in the medium and high priority basins that have the 2022 deadlines, I hope you’re thinking about this now,” Ms. Ryan advised.

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SGMA IMPLEMENTATION: David Orth gives his observations on how sustainable groundwater management is playing out in the San Joaquin Valley

David Orth is the principal of New Current Water and Land, which offers strategic planning, program implementation, and water resource development services.  At the California Irrigation Institute’s 2020 Annual Conference, he gave his observations on how implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is progressing, having watched Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) form and develop their Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) since the passage of the SGMA in 2014.

New Current Water and Land is a small strategic planning shop that combines experience in water engineering, finance, district management, and water law to create a strategic planning platform.  Their clients are from the farming community, the investment community, and the lending community.  They also work with one environmental NGO.  Over the last several years, they have monitored over 60 GSAs on behalf on that client base in over 40 subbasins, including about 15 of the 21 subbasins that are considered critically overdrafted.

Through the course of that, we’ve provided a general risk assessment for our clients by area so they can understand where they really need to pay attention as GSPs are developed in the policy engagement arena,” he said.  “Then we extrapolated that into long-term forecasting of what individual ranch water budgets are going to look like upon full implementation of SGMA.  This has assisted our ag clients in making decisions about redevelopment or acquisition or disposition in how to deal with the new variable that SGMA creates.”

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SGMA IMPLEMENTATION: Water rights permitting options for groundwater recharge projects

ACWA/State Water Board webinar presentation outlines temporary and permanent options, including a new streamlined permitting pathway for standard water rights permits

Almost five years ago, in the midst of a historic drought, the legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA).  The centerpiece of the legislation is the principle of local groundwater basin management, requiring the establishment of local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (or GSAs) and the preparation of Groundwater Sustainability Plans (or GSPs) for groundwater basins statewide.  The plans detail how the basin will be managed to avoid undesirable results, such as salt water intrusion or land subsidence, and to achieve sustainability managed basins over a 20 year planning and implementation horizon.

As many groundwater basins work to achieve sustainability, many if not most will look to groundwater recharge as a tool to help balance supplies and demands.  At a webinar held at the end of last year, State Water Board staff discussed new permitting options for Groundwater Sustainability Agencies pursuing recharge projects.

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CA WATER COMMISSION: An update on implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (or SGMA)

DWR’s Taryn Ravazzini updates the Commission on the Department’s activities, including major milestones, 2019 activities, and the Department’s technical and financial assistance

In September of 2014, Governor Brown signed a package of legislation known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) which created a framework for local agencies to develop Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) tailored to their regional needs.

To date, SGMA implementation has included local agencies forming groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs), two rounds of basin boundary modifications and basin prioritizations, and alternative plan reviews.  Next, SGMA requires GSAs to prepare GSPs which will result in sustainable management of groundwater basins within 20 years.  For basins designated as critically overdrafted, the plans are due by January 31, 2020; other high and medium priority basin plans are due on January 31, 2022.

At the November meeting of the California Water Commission, Taryn Ravazzini, DWR Deputy Director for Statewide Groundwater Management, updated the Commission on DWR’s recent activities and milestones related to SGMA.

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GROUNDWATER TWO-FOR: The disconnect between groundwater legal systems and groundwater hydrology; Proactively managing groundwater to sustain communities and nature in an uncertain future

David Sandino and Maurice Hall present their big ideas on groundwater management

The Groundwater Resources Association of California (GRA) created the David Keith Todd Distinguished Lecture Series to honor Dr. David Keith Todd, a GRA 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, for his enormous contributions to groundwater science and technology, and to foster interest and excellence in applied groundwater science and technology. Two lecturers are selected with the lectures offered in Northern and Southern California at universities, statewide and regional GRA events, and GRA’s Annual Conference and Meeting.

The 2019 lectures featured David Sandino, Senior Staff Counsel at the Department of Water Resources, who spoke about the disconnect between legal groundwater systems and how the system actually works, describing the areas where they do not accurately reflect the physical environment and pose problems for effective groundwater management; and Maurice Hall, Associate Vice President of Ecosystems-Water at the Environmental Defense Fund, who spoke of how more holistic and inclusive groundwater management can increase the resilience of our water supply and sustain and enhance the services that groundwater basins provide for a wide range of stakeholders.

At the Groundwater Resources Association’s 2019 Western Groundwater Congress, Mr. Sandino and Mr. Hall gave brief presentations of their lectures.

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SGMA IMPLEMENTATION: Developing Sustainable Management Criteria

Minimum thresholds, measurable objectives, undesirable results: A panel of consultants discuss the specifics of how their GSAs determined sustainable management criteria

The passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014 requires that groundwater basins be managed such that the use of groundwater can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results.  In order to demonstrate sustainability, the Groundwater Sustainability Plan regulations require the development of locally-defined quantitative sustainable management criteria, including undesirable results, minimum thresholds, and measurable objectives.

At the second annual Groundwater Sustainability Agency Summit, hosted by the Groundwater Resources Association in June of this year, a panel of consultants discussed the process and the specifics of how they developed sustainable management criteria for their basins.

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CA WATER LAW SYMPOSIUM: Questions of common supply: SGMA requirements for interconnected surface water and groundwater

The Yuba River a tributary of the Feather River flows east to west from the Sierra Nevada Mountains into the Sacramento Valley in Northern California. Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), passed in 2014, is California’s first statewide law that explicitly reflects the fact that surface water and groundwater are frequently interconnected and that groundwater management can impact groundwater-dependent ecosystems, surface water flows, and the beneficial uses of those flows.

SGMA requires groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) to manage groundwater to avoid six undesirable results, one of which is significant and unreasonable adverse impacts on beneficial uses of surface water. While this aspect of SGMA is clearly important, significant uncertainties exist regarding how GSAs will actually define and achieve this goal.  At the 2019 California Water Law Symposium, a panel of experts discussed the structure of SGMA and how it addresses these water connections, particularly in relation to fisheries and the public trust doctrine.

Seated on the panel:

The panel was moderated by Kevin O’Brien, attorney and partner at Downey Brand and organized by students at Golden Gate University School of Law.

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ELLEN HANAK: Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley

Ellen Hanak delivers four priorities for managing the implementation of SGMA in the San Joaquin Valley

The San Joaquin Valley is California’s largest agricultural region and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply, producing more than half of the state’s agricultural output.  Irrigated agriculture is the region’s main economic driver and predominant water user.

However, the San Joaquin Valley is at a pivotal point. It is ground zero for many of California’s most difficult water management problems, including groundwater overdraft, contaminated drinking water, and declines in habitat and native species.  The Valley has high rates of unemployment and pockets of extreme poverty, challenges that increase when the farm economy suffers.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires local water users to bring their overdrafted groundwater basins into balance by the early 2040s.  With the largest groundwater overdraft in the State, the implementation of SGMA will have a broad impact on Valley agriculture in coming years, and will likely entail fallowing of significant amounts of farmland.

Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley” is the third installment of a research project by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) Water Policy Center on solutions to the San Joaquin Valley’s water challenges. Ellen Hanak is director of the PPIC Water Policy Center and a senior fellow at PPIC. At the May meeting of the California Water Commission, she discussed the findings of their research and recommendations regarding the challenges facing the San Joaquin Valley.

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CA WATER LAW SYMPOSIUM: Groundwater adjudication under SGMA

Attorney Eric Garner and EDF’s Christina Babbitt discuss adjudication and management under SGMA in a panel discussion moderated by Justice Ron Robie

​The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act explicitly states that nothing in the legislation will alter surface or groundwater rights under the common law.  However, the legislation requires groundwater basins be managed to prevent the “undesirable results” caused by extraction of groundwater.  This begs the question: how will these two seemingly-opposing provisions of the legislation be reconciled?

At the 2019 California Water Law Symposium, Eric Garner, managing partner of Best Best & Krieger, and Christina Babbitt, Program Manager for Groundwater at the Environmental Defense Fund discussed groundwater adjudications in the new age of groundwater management under Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in a panel discussion moderated by the Honorable Ronald Robie.  This panel was organized by students from McGeorge School of Law.

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WESTERN GROUNDWATER CONGRESS: Multiple perspectives on groundwater-surface water interactions under SGMA

Panel discussion looks at groundwater-surface water interactions under SGMA from a regulatory, environmental, academic, and policy perspective

From Maven’s Notebook:

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act defines sustainable groundwater management in terms of avoiding six undesirable results defined in the legislation: declining groundwater levels, reduction in groundwater storage, land subsidence, sea water intrusion, water quality degradation, and depletion of interconnected surface water.  Of these six undesirable results, the one that has spurred the most discussion has been surface water depletions.

At the Groundwater Resources Association’s Western Groundwater Congress held this fall, a panel of speakers offered their perspectives on surface water-groundwater interactions under SGMA.

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