DWR Finalizes Basin Prioritizations under SGMA

From the Department of Water Resources:

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) [last Friday] announced final basin prioritization for the majority of groundwater basins in the state as required under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

Today’s announcement finalizes the prioritization for 458 basins, identifying 56 basins that are required to create groundwater sustainability plans under SGMA. For most basins, the results are a confirmation of prioritizations established in 2015. Fifty-nine basins remain under review with final prioritization expected in late spring.

“Prioritizing groundwater basins is a critical step along the path of ensuring sustainable groundwater supplies for future generations of Californians,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “Groundwater management is a big, complicated endeavor for California, which is why DWR is investing heavily to provide local planning entities with technical assistance to be successful.”

SGMA requires local agencies throughout the state to sustainably manage groundwater basins. Basins identified as high- or medium-priority are required to adopt groundwater sustainability plans beginning in 2020. DWR is required to reassess groundwater basin prioritizations any time it updates basin boundaries. This prioritization for 458 basins incorporates the basin boundary modifications finalized in 2016. Prioritization is based on factors such as population, irrigated acreage, and the number of wells in the basin. Changes in prioritization generally reflect changed conditions or new information about existing conditions.

Today’s prioritization reflects updates based on new requirements under SGMA, including adverse impacts to habitat and streamflow, adjudicated areas, critically over drafted basins and groundwater related transfers.

Twenty-one basins were changed to ‘very low’ because they are covered by adjudicated areas with existing governance and oversight in place. Adjudicated areas are not required to prepare groundwater sustainability plans and are instead required to submit annual reports to DWR on their groundwater management and monitoring.

Draft prioritizations were announced in May 2018. These finalizations come after a 94-day public comment period and four public meetings that resulted in 500 individual comments and related datasets leading to some revisions in basin prioritization.