The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) today released its second round of assessments of groundwater sustainability plans developed by local agencies to meet the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The first round of assessments was announced in June.
DWR has assessed and approved plans for the Oxnard Subbasin and the Pleasant Valley Basin in Ventura County, and the North and South Yuba subbasins in Yuba County. These four plans were approved with recommended corrective actions the groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) will need to address in their next updated plan due by January 2025. The GSAs for these basins will continue implementing their plans to achieve SGMA’s goal of groundwater sustainability within 20 years.
DWR has notified GSAs in the Eastern San Joaquin Subbasin in San Joaquin County, the Chowchilla and Merced subbasins in Merced and Madera counties, and the Westside Subbasin in Fresno County that their plans lack specific details and will need to address deficiencies to be approved. Prior to making a final determination, DWR is requesting a consultation meeting with the GSAs to discuss actions and time necessary to improve the plans.
The four basins must address a number of deficiencies including the effect of chronic lowering of groundwater levels and land subsidence conditions on groundwater users. The GSAs will need to further analyze drinking water impacts, including the development of projects and actions. Additionally, they will be required to thoroughly understand and avoid or minimize subsidence impacts on flood control and water conveyance infrastructure, as intended by the law.
“In light of the historic and variable climate conditions we are experiencing, these decisions reinforce that managing our water resources in an adaptive and inclusive way is how groundwater sustainability will be achieved,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “We appreciate and support the role of local leaders in shaping how their communities manage the change that comes from creating sustainable groundwater supplies. DWR is committed to providing additional drinking water guidance for the local groundwater agencies to make public health and safety a top priority.”
SGMA initiated a new era of local groundwater management. For the first time in California’s water history, local agencies and groundwater users are required to form GSAs and develop and implement plans to guide how they will achieve groundwater basin sustainability goals over the next 20 years.
SGMA lays out a process for continuous improvement – gathering information to fill data gaps, updating plans, and promoting science-based adaptation. Plans will be updated as new information becomes available and as conditions change in groundwater basins. DWR will review annual reports and assess each plan every five years to determine if the GSAs are on track to meet their basins’ goal.
Despite the long-term timeline, SGMA requires near-term actions that will help the state manage water resources during dry and drought years. For example, GSAs have been required to submit annual progress reports since 2020 with the most up-to-date monitoring and plan implementation information for their groundwater basins, including groundwater levels and use. This data can be accessed on the SGMA Portal.
By tracking conditions and implementation performance, the state and local agencies can better manage water resources during average and wet years to ensure groundwater will be available as a buffer during dry years.
In addition to and aligned with plan evaluation, DWR continues to support GSAs by providing planning, technical, and financial assistance. In April, DWR announced $26 million in grant funding for project investments to improve water supply security, water quality and the reliability of groundwater. Last month, DWR also released draft guidelines for public comment on planning and implementation of an additional $300 million for SGMA implementation.
These efforts align with the Newsom Administration’s goal to provide significant additional funding for projects to improve groundwater conditions and advance safe drinking water efforts for groundwater-dependent communities identified in the Governor’s Water Resilience Portfolio.