The Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program: Envisioning the social, economic, and environmental possibilities of fallowed lands

At the January meeting of the California Water Commission, Keali’i Bright, Assistant Director of the Department of Conservation’s Division of Land Resources, gave a presentation on the Department’s Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program.

Mr. Bright began by acknowledging that the Department of Conservation is not an expert on water or habitat, but the Department does have a long history of supporting practitioners and entities working within watersheds.

“We support them to develop strategies to address the bigger landscape challenges that they’re facing, from the top of the watershed down to the groundwater basins on the valley floor,” he said.  “And with the drought and with groundwater levels being depleted, we’re really facing this moment where we’re going to exacerbate all of the pressures on our landowners, agricultural leaders, communities, and people who rely on these sources.”

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KAMYAR GUIVETCHI: Managing Water Resources for Sustainability & Resilience

Kamyar Guivetchi is the Manager of DWR’s Division of Planning, where he works with staff, numerous government agencies, California Native American tribes, other stakeholders, and the public to prepare the California Water plan updates.  At the UC Davis Groundwater SAS Symposium, Mr. Guivetchi gave a keynote address focusing on the need to build watershed resilience by increasing integration among agencies with responsibilities for water resources.  He also touched on the Newsom administration’s water initiatives, the update to the California Water Plan, and Flood-MAR.

Mr. Guivetchi began by noting that context is really important when discussing water in California.  California is a big state with ten hydrologic regions, each the size of other states.

If California were the size of Connecticut, we would have an entirely different way of thinking about water,” he said.  “So the size and diversity of our hydrologic regions mean there are no cookie-cutter solutions.  We really have to work at the watershed scale and customize what needs to be done.”

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SGMA IMPLEMENTATION UPDATE: With the deadline looming for the GSPs deemed incomplete, the State Water Board prepares for possible intervention

From Maven’s Notebook:

In January of 2022, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) released their assessments of the groundwater sustainability plans for the critically overdrafted groundwater basins, approving eight of them and determining twelve to be incomplete.  Those basins have until July 31, 2022 to correct the deficiencies and resubmit their plans to DWR or face possible intervention by the State Water Resources Control Board.

At the May 10 meeting of the State Water Board, James Nachbaur and Anthony Wohletz from the State Water Board’s Office of Research, Planning, and Performance, and Paul Gosselin, Deputy Director of Sustainable Groundwater Management, updated the Board members on the status of SGMA implementation and the what the possible future role of State Water Board’s intervention would look like.

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WEBINAR: How do you run a Groundwater Sustainability Agency ?– A Review of Choices made by Critically Overdrafted Subbasins

On February 1st, 2022 Maven’s Notebook, the Groundwater Exchange, and the Local Government Commission hosted a webinar entitled: How do you run a Groundwater Sustainability Agency ?– A Review of Choices made by Critically Overdrafted Subbasins.

Laura Ramos and Sarge Green  from Fresno State discussed the key findings and recommendations of the newly released SGMA Governance Strategies Summary Report.  If you missed the webinar, check out the recording to learn about the methodology and resources shared, along with the question and answer session.

Click here to watch the webinar.

CCST BRIEFING: Remote Sensing Technologies and Water Resilience

Can we look to the sky to address California’s water challenges?  As California continues to grapple with frequent drought and overdrafted aquifers, satellite-based measurements offer a cost-effective way to generate high-resolution data on groundwater resources across a wide geographic area.  In conjunction with other ground-based monitoring, data from satellites can help inform sustainable groundwater management.

In December, the California Council on Science and Technology brought three experts together to discuss the role of remote sensing technologies to provide information to support water management decisions.

Panel discussed groundwater applications of Open ET and InSAR to groundwater management in the San Joaquin Valley.

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Department of Conservation previews SGMA multi-benefit land repurposing program

The view from Calcareous Vineyard in Paso Robles, Calif. on April 28th, 2015.
Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources

Upcoming workshops to gather public input on the new program

At the September meeting of the California Water Commission, Kealiʻi Bright, Assistant Director of the Division of Land Resource Protection at the California Department of Conservation (or DOC), gave a presentation on a new program being spun up to repurpose farmland being retired due to SGMA implementation.

Mr. Bright began by acknowledging that the Department of Conservation being at a Water Commission might be unusual because they are not a groundwater agency or any kind of water agency, but they are an agency with a suite of programs that invest in natural and working lands’ land use, they support conservation organizations that do work within natural and working lands, and they have different programs that fund permanent conservation in those lands.

So while we aren’t a water agency with water expertise, what we do have is a pretty a pretty vast and strong network of conservation partners throughout the state,” he said.  “We are really excited to help DWR, the Water Board, and all of you implement what is a little bit further beyond the horizon of groundwater sustainability efforts.”

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CA WATER COMMISSION: Advancing Well-Designed Water Trading Programs in California

In March of this year, the Secretaries of the Natural Resources Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Food and Ag tasked the California Water Commission with initiating a thorough and inclusive public dialogue to frame state considerations around shaping well-managed groundwater trading programs.

At the June meeting of the California Water Commission,  the commissioners heard from a panel of speakers who discussed why groundwater sustainability agencies (or GSAs) might consider markets, what groundwater trading entails, its opportunities and limitations, and how it is connected to water accounting, allocations, and sustainable groundwater management.

The first panelist was Dr. Newsha Ajami, the Director of Urban Water Policy with Stanford University’s Water in the West and an appointed member of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission who gave a presentation on using a cap and trade scheme to diversify water supplies.  You can read her presentation here:  Dr. Newsha Ajami: Enhancing Regional Water Sustainability through Virtual Water Trading

Next, Steven Springhorn, the Acting Deputy Director of Statewide Groundwater Management at the Department of Water Resources, highlighted how the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and related activities provide a framework and foundation to build off of to develop efficient and equitable markets and how those markets can help to collectively and successfully implement SGMA.  He also discussed the assistance available from the Department for SGMA implementation that can facilitate local agencies working towards developing allocations and markets.  You can read his presentation here:   STEVEN SPRINGHORN: Water Trading & the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

The third presenter was Dr. Christina Babbitt, the senior manager of the Environmental Defense Fund’s California Groundwater Program.  Her presentation focused on advancing well-designed water trading programs in California and included an example of EDF’s work with partners to develop a groundwater trading platform.  You can read her presentation here: DR. CHRISTINA BABBITT: Advancing Well-Designed Water Trading Programs in California


At the Kern County Water Summit held last week, hosted by the Water Association of Kern County, Acting Deputy Director of the Department of Water Resources Statewide Groundwater Management Program Steven Springhorn provided an update on the Department’s progress on SGMA implementation, including the Department’s review of the submitted Groundwater Sustainability Plans and the existing and proposed SGMA-related assistance.

He began by noting the considerable amount of work that has been done the past six years since the law went into effect, includes establishing regulations for the forming Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (or GSAs) and for developing Groundwater Sustainability Plans (or GSPs).

We are right now at a point where SGMA is hitting its full stride,” said Mr. Springhorn.  “There is still a lot of work ahead of us in this next phase, which is full-scale plan implementation over the next 20 years.  The local efforts of implementing plans and adaptively managing the groundwater basins will allow us to find solutions to the tough challenges that are out there in order to reach sustainability in 20 years and make measurable progress along the way.

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Advancing Flood-MAR: What are the possibilities?

Dr. Graham Fogg and DWR’s Jenny Marr discuss the efforts underway to assess the potential for Flood Managed Aquifer Recharge (or Flood MAR)

At the April meeting of the California Water Commission, the Commission continued examining the state’s role in conveyance projects by hearing from two experts on flood-managed aquifer recharge, or Flood MAR.  First, Dr. Graham Fogg, UC David professor emeritus of Hydrogeology, discussed scaling up Flood MAR and how that will likely present new conveyance needs.  Then, Jenny Marr, Supervising Engineer at the Department of Water Resources, outlined the state’s approach to flood Mar.

GRAHAM FOGG: Flood-MAR Perspective: American-Cosumnes Basin Experience

Dr. Graham Fogg’s presentation gave the big picture perspective on Flood MAR and highlighted a case study underway in the American-Cosumnes basin as part of a UC Water initiative since 2014.

He began by pointing out California is not alone in having groundwater problems.  Groundwater depletion is a global problem. Depleted aquifers are being increasingly written about all over the world. In some cases, it’s becoming an existential crisis in water security.

Why is that? Dr. Fogg noted that since we’ve been developing groundwater, which has only in the last 50-70 years at high amounts, we’ve concentrated mainly on pumping it.

Typically, we pump the groundwater and hope for the best,” he said.  “The alternative in terms of managing it, now we can pump groundwater, is that we can also do things that increase the groundwater storage; we can replenish the groundwater. So one way to look at it is we’ve worked a lot harder in the last 50 years or so in pumping groundwater than we have in replenishing it.”

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CA WATER COMMISSION: Update on implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

Last year was a milestone year for SGMA, with the critically-overdrafted basins required to submit their first groundwater sustainability plans to DWR by January 31st of 2020. The Department is currently reviewing these groundwater sustainability plans and will release assessments of them this year.  By statute, the Department has two years to complete an evaluation of the plans.

At the California Water Commission’s March meeting, the commissioners received an update on how the implementation of SGMA is going from staff from the DWR’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Office.  Their presentation included the approach and timeline for releasing assessments of groundwater sustainability plans and the state’s planning technical and financial assistance supporting local SGMA implementation.

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