SGMA in the News

Water Commission’s white paper on groundwater trading programs emphasizes safeguards for vulnerable water users

June 1, 2022

From the California Water Commission:

The California Water Commission today approved a white paper that contains its findings and the potential next steps for State engagement in shaping well-managed groundwater trading programs with appropriate safeguards for vulnerable water users: natural resources, small- and medium-size farms, and water supply and quality for disadvantaged communities.

The white paper will be shared with the Secretaries for Natural Resources, Environmental Protection, and Food and Agriculture, who requested the Commission’s engagement on this topic. The paper will guide the continued work on Water Resilience Portfolio Action 3.6 by the California Departments of Water Resources, Fish and Wildlife, and Food and Agriculture, and the State Water Resources Control Board.

Through extensive outreach and input that involved learning from the experience of others around the state, country, and world, the Commission’s paper frames the basic elements of well-functioning, protective groundwater trading programs. Those elements start with trust, access to accurate data, and a sound, well-implemented groundwater sustainability plan that fully considers all beneficial groundwater users when setting sustainable conditions.

Keywords: Water Markets

SGMA implementation in the San Joaquin Valley: Farmers’ perspective

June 1, 2022

From Maven’s Notebook:

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, was passed in 2014 during a period of critically dry years; the legislation was intended to stop the adverse impacts occurring due to the severe overpumping of groundwater basins.  SGMA required groundwater basins to form a local groundwater sustainability agency and develop a groundwater sustainability plan to achieve sustainability in their groundwater basins within 20 years.  Eight years into implementation, all GSAs have submitted the first groundwater sustainability plans and are beginning to implement them.  For SGMA, the rubber is just now starting to hit the road.

The law will most impact the San Joaquin Valley, as most groundwater basins in the valley have been designated as critically overdrafted.  At the Urban Water Institute’s annual spring meeting, a panel discussed the challenges that San Joaquin Valley farmers face and how they are responding.

Seated on the panel were Jason Phillips, CEO of the Friant Water Authority; Dr. David Sunding, an economist and professor at UC Berkeley; and Jack Rice, farmer and consultant.

Click here to continue reading this article from Maven’s Notebook.

SGMA in the news

June 1, 2022

Going rogue? Groundwater agency says protecting all domestic wells is “unreasonable”

A San Joaquin Valley  groundwater agency may be “going rogue” on the issue of whether it’s responsible to protect all drinking water wells.  A letter approved by the board of the Kings River East Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), which covers eastern Fresno County and a chunk of northern Tulare County, says that it is “unreasonable” for the state to require the agricultural industry to raise groundwater levels enough to protect even the most shallow domestic well. … DWR rejected the Kings Subbasin, which includes the Kings River East GSA, groundwater sustainability plan in January.  One of the state’s biggest concerns was that the plan didn’t explain how it would protect community drinking water wells from being harmed by agricultural over pumping.  The Kings River East GSA’s letter calls that requirement “unreasonable.” ... ”  Read more from SJV Water here: Going rogue? Groundwater agency says protecting all domestic wells is “unreasonable”

Proposed law makes new well permitting process permanent

New legislation introduced in the State Assembly aims to make the Governor’s March 28 order on new water well permits permanent.  Assemblymember Steve Bennett (D-Ventura) and representatives from Visalia-based Community Water Center (CWC) introduced Assembly Bill 2201 on March 31 requiring local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) to evaluate new well drilling permits to ensure those wells will not negatively affect domestic wells nearby before the permits can be approved by county government. The law would codify Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order, which is temporary. … ”  Read more from the Foothills Sun Gazette here:   Proposed law makes new well permitting process permanent.

‘MRI for the Earth’ probes groundwater from the air

For decades, scientists have poked deep holes a few miles apart across the California landscape, seeking to better understand the characteristics of the state’s 515 groundwater basins in hopes of better managing and protecting them.  Now, California water officials are deploying a new technology—and some new-age, aerial surveillance—to monitor groundwater supplies and aquifer health.  The technology was demonstrated at the Lodi Airport in Acampo and the Yolo County Airport near Davis in April. Before dignitaries and other onlookers, a California Department of Water Resources helicopter lifted skyward, raising a 100-foot-long, six-sided hoop into the air. … ”  Read more from Ag Alert here: ‘MRI for the Earth’ probes groundwater from the air

Experts recommend privately-owned wells be checked amid ongoing drought

As we approach summer, some experts recommend that private well owners inspect their wells.  “Every well owner should have their well inspected, but this is even more important for those of us who live in California who are experiencing these long-term droughts because the drought does impact operating wells, and obviously, the wells that have already gone dry,” said Ben Frech, spokesperson for the California Groundwater Association.  Frech said an inspection by a certified professional can identify potential problems and leaks. … ”  Read more from KRCR here: Experts recommend privately-owned wells be checked amid ongoing drought

Butte County: Supervisors hold off on Vina GSA legal finance support

The Butte County Department of Water Resource Conservation requested a budget adjustment of $8,000 from the Butte County Board of Supervisors to go toward costs accumulated through a legal complaint against the Vina Groundwater Sustainability Agency.  Department Director Kami Loesser was joined Tuesday by Assistant Director Christina Buck before the board to make the request.  With Supervisor Doug Teeter unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting during which the request was made, the board’s vote was split 2-2 with supervisors Debra Lucero and Tami Ritter voting against it.  Lucero expressed concern that there had been no tracking of costs and time associated with the GSA, which is made up of Butte County, Chico and the Durham Irrigation District. ... ”  Read more from the Chico Enterprise-Record here: Supervisors hold off on Vina GSA legal finance support | Read via the Oroville Mercury Register

Central Valley: California’s drought has caused entire towns to sink nearly a foot in just one year. This map shows where

The ground is sinking in parts of California as the continued drought strains reservoirs, increasing reliance on the state’s already precarious groundwater reserves depleted by years of well-pumping.  In just one year, from October 2020 to September 2021, satellite-based estimates showed entire towns in the Central Valley, including in Kings and Tulare counties, sinking by nearly a foot. The maximum loss recorded during that time was 1.1 feet on the northwestern edge of Tulare County.  The sinking, known as land subsidence, happens when excessive pumping dries out the water reserves underground and collapses the space where water used to be. Experts say it’s a century-old problem in California that regulators have tried to slow with sustainability measures. But with the changing climate, they face an uphill battle. ... ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here: California’s drought has caused entire towns to sink nearly a foot in just one year. This map shows where

San Joaquin County and Eastern San Joaquin Groundwater Authority announce award of multi-million dollar state grant

As severe drought conditions persist in California, news of a $7.6 million state grant for the Eastern San Joaquin Groundwater Authority (ESJGWA) to implement its mandated Groundwater Sustainability Plan couldn’t come at a better time. The ESJGWA, which includes 16 regional Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), will soon benefit from the grant funding to help this over drafted basin start down the path to sustainability. Overdraft is when more water is pumped from the groundwater basin on average than is returned to the basin via natural and artificial groundwater recharge … ”  Read more from San Joaquin County here: San Joaquin County and Eastern San Joaquin Groundwater Authority announce award of multi-million dollar state grant

Tule Subbasin: Groundwater law’s sinking of ag economy may have been overstated

As the deadline for local agencies to implement plans to reduce groundwater use approaches, a new study finds California’s landmark legislation may have less of an impact on the local agriculture economy than originally predicted.  A study authored by Professor Michael McCullough on the effect of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in the Tule Sub Basin in the Central Valley shows the long-term effect of the ongoing drought and restrictions on groundwater. It says by 2040, the deadline for local agencies to reach groundwater sustainability, the 2014 law will likely result in the loss of some crops, but probably not the more valuable ones, such as fruit and nuts, in the sub basin which encompasses Tulare County south of Tulare to the Kern County line. … ”  Read more from the Foothills Sun-Gazette here: Groundwater law’s sinking of ag economy may have been overstated

Water districts bail on Kern’s largest groundwater agency; form their own group

Fractures have appeared within Kern County’s largest groundwater agency as pressure mounts for it to show the state how it plans to address the region’s massive groundwater deficit.  Four water entities recently notified the Kern Groundwater Authority they were pulling out of the 16-member group to write their own groundwater sustainability plan. That will add a sixth plan covering the Kern subbasin, which extends across the San Joaquin Valley portion of the county.  This comes as members of the authority, and other groundwater sustainability agencies in the subbasin, are working to respond to the Department of Water Resources (DWR), which found all groundwater plans in Kern County incomplete in January.  Those responses are due to the state by July 27. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here: Water districts bail on Kern’s largest groundwater agency; form their own group

New Paso basin water regulations would ‘exacerbate overdraft’

A new set of proposed Paso Robles Groundwater Basin rules would result in more vineyards and a spike in basinwide pumping, which would “exacerbate” the aquifer’s overdraft, according to a draft environmental impact report (EIR) released on May 20.  The draft EIR, commissioned by San Luis Obispo County, analyzed the impacts of a proposed new groundwater ordinance pushed forward by the Board of Supervisors last year, which would supersede a current moratorium on expanded irrigated agriculture over the parched basin. … ”  Read more from New Times SLO here: New Paso basin water regulations would ‘exacerbate overdraft’

Santa Barbara Supes tighten rules for approving new water wells

It’s one thing for Governor Gavin Newsom to issue an executive decree ordering tougher rules for issuing new water wells permits; it’s quite another for the county supervisors to craft a new emergency ordinance making it happen. But that happened at the Tuesday, May 24, board meeting.  Supervisors Bob Nelson and Steve Lavagnino worried that the proposed language they were considering at this board meeting was too restrictive, especially for farmers; Supervisor Das Williams worried that the language was too loose, allowing multinational corporations to continue to suck dry the already badly depleted groundwater basins of the Cuyama Valley. Despite such seemingly irreconcilable differences, the supervisors unanimously backed a new emergency ordinance that will require the county’s Department of Environmental Health, which is responsible for issuing well permits, to take additional steps to ensure that new wells are not allowed to negatively impact the production of nearby wells ​— ​defined as within 1,000 feet of each other ​— ​or cause subsidence of the ground. … ”  Read more from the Santa Barbara Independent here: Santa Barbara Supes tighten rules for approving new water wells

Ventura County: The precious water we cannot see

The Ventura County Star editorial board writes, “In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that forbids the drilling of new water wells or the alteration of existing wells unless the local groundwater management agency determines the new well would not interfere with the production of neighboring wells and would not decrease the likelihood that the underlying aquifer can be sustainably managed.  In water-starved California, the common-sense reaction to that order might have been: Isn’t that already the law?  The answer, in a word, is no. … ”  Read more from the Ventura County Star here: The precious water we cannot see

Ridgecrest: Groundwater Authority begins plan to import water

Photo by David O.

At its monthly board meeting on May 11, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority took its first step towards the long term goal of importing water to the Indian Wells Valley. The IWVGA board of directors unanimously voted to send out a request for proposals from consultants capable of planning the water importation project.  The plan is still very much in its infancy, with language from the RFP implying that the consultant will be planning for a plan for a study of the project. … ”  Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent here: Groundwater Authority begins plan to import water

Ridgecrest: Water District board requests time to review water reports from Groundwater Authority

The Indian Wells Valley Water District board of directors are not satisfied with the process of the annual sustainability reports from the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority.  On Monday, the Water District board approved a motion to send a letter to IWVGA asking them to change this process.  The Water District is the public utility company which pumps and provides water for most people in the Valley. IWVGA is the groundwater sustainability agency responsible for drafting and enforcing a groundwater sustainability plan for the Valley. … ”  Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent here: Water District board requests time to review water reports from Groundwater Authority

California’s new farmland repurposing program requires community engagement. This guide describes how.

March 24, 2022

Many regions in California are embarking on a new era of water and land management strategies as local agencies implement sustainability initiatives and climate change intensifies droughts and water scarcity.

However, too often low-income rural communities have had little opportunity to influence land and water decisions that directly impact — and often harm — them, resulting in such outcomes as wells drying up and limited access to parks.

California’s new Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program aims to ensure these communities as well as small-scale farmers are more involved in land and water use planning by making their engagement a requirement for funding recipients.

Click here to read more from the Environmental Defense Fund.

RELATED EVENT: Office Hours: March 29:  Repurposing farmland that will be fallowed as part of SGMA

UPCOMING EVENTS: Office Hours: Land repurposing, Proactive groundwater management strategies; Building conceptual models from airborne and ground electrical datasets; MAR as a strategy for mitigating drought impacts; and more …

March 24, 2022

March 29:  Repurposing farmland that will be fallowed as part of SGMA

Join Mavens Notebook, the Groundwater Exchange, CivicWell (formerly the Local Government Commission) for the third in a series of groundwater lunch time “office hours.” These reoccurring sessions offer an informal forum to ask experts about Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) implementation.

With the implementation of SGMA, estimates are that as much as 750,000 acres of farmland may need to come out of production to bring groundwater basins into balance. However, this doesn’t need to mean unproductive, dusty fields of weeds that worsen air quality. There are options! Potential new uses of agricultural lands include restored habitat corridors, community recreational spaces, low-impact solar and groundwater recharge basins, all of which can help improve air quality and soil health.

On March 29, our guests will be Anna Schiller, Project Manager with the Environmental Defense Fund, and Vicky Espinoza, UC Merced PhD Candidate and YouTube channel CaliWaterAg. They will provide an overview of a new program from the Department of Conservation that provides funding to help land repurposing projects be implemented, and discuss the new guidance document, Community and Grower Engagement in Multibenefit Land Repurposing.

Who should attend: Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), beneficial users, tribes, researchers, non-governmental groups, and any other interested community member.

Submit your questions during the event or email them ahead of time to

Click here to register.

April 4: Office Hours: Proactive groundwater management strategies

On April 4, we’ll be hosting Maurice Hall, Vice-President, Climate Resilient Water Systems, for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Maurice Hall leads EDF’s Water Program, focusing on developing collaborative water management approaches to meet ecosystem needs alongside the needs of farms and cities.

Accurate accounting of groundwater use is critical for effective management. EDF has co-developed an online water accounting platform, which is now being expanded through a partnership with the state, and OpenET, an online platform that makes satellite-based data on water consumed by crops widely access.

Join us on April 4, as we discuss OpenET, groundwater accounting and proactive water management to build resilience beyond SGMA.

Who should attend: Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), beneficial users, tribes, researchers, non-governmental groups, and any other interested community member.

Submit your questions during the event or email them ahead of time to

Click here to register.

March 31: WEBINAR: Electrical Hydrogeology: Building Aquifer Conceptual Models from Airborne and Ground Electrical Datasets

The use of electrical data to provide denser datasets for conceptualizing flow and transport in aquifers is on the rise due to technology improvements and demonstrated cost effectiveness. Airborne electromagnetic (AEM) surveys provide large coverage of aquifer areas to detect regional scale flow paths and dominant fracture pathways.

Ground-based electrical resistivity imaging (ERI) surveys provide controlled higher resolution evaluation of potential drilling targets identified by AEM, to further quantify hydrogeologic parameters and assess validity of drilling targets. Temporal electrical resistivity imaging (TERI) can also be deployed to monitor and observe aquifer flow processes over time. As increasing amounts of data are collected and tested in a specific aquifer, the parameterization across the datasets becomes stronger over time.

This talk will illustrate the integration of airborne and ground electrical datasets with targeted traditional drilling/sampling data, to build robust conceptual models containing well defined preferential pathways at the regional scale.

Click here to register.

APRIL 6: WEBINAR: Managed Aquifer Recharge as a strategy for Mitigating Drought Impacts on Irrigated Agriculture in California

Managed aquifer recharge (or intentional recharge) is a purposeful human intervention designed to supplement natural enrichment processes of groundwater aquifers by various methods. It holds the potential to mitigate the impact of climate uncertainty on irrigated agriculture by replenishing storage levels in depleted groundwater sources, the economic value of which increases during droughts.

We use a high-resolution dynamic regional hydro-economic framework that endogenizes farming decisions in response to water quantity-quality changes, as well as complex hydrogeological principles to analyze several policy and climate scenarios applied to the Kings Groundwater Basin in California.

Our analysis demonstrates that intentional recharge is of benefit to the region, increasing in value under sustainable groundwater management derived from recent legislation in California. We also find that recharge strategy as well as the impact of climate uncertainty on regional welfare are sensitive to the prevailing institutional arrangements. Regional cooperation is essential, and its importance depends on climate conditions and existing policies.

Click here to register.

Find more groundwater events on the Groundwater Exchange’s calendar.

Category: Calendar events

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

March 24, 2022

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.

Keywords: Governance

SUSTAINABLE CONSERVATION: Protecting Water Quality While Recharging Aquifers

March 24, 2022

Over 600,000 Californians rely on nitrate-contaminated public supply wells for their household water needs.  However, those numbers are even greater as they don’t include the many others who struggle with contaminated groundwater from domestic wells.  Balancing long-term groundwater sustainability and water quality will help California weather future droughts, ensure safe drinking water, and support our thriving agricultural community that feeds the nation.

One tool for groundwater sustainability is groundwater recharge, where water is intentionally spread on the ground and allowed to infiltrate into the underlying aquifer.  However, there is much concern that groundwater recharge can increase water quality issues, especially when the recharge water is spread upon agricultural lands.

In November of 2021, Sustainable Conservation held a webinar featuring a panel of experts who discussed how California can work to replenish our aquifers while protecting water quality for the health of our communities.

Click here to read this post.

The deceptively simple plan to replenish California’s groundwater

March 24, 2022

From National Geographic:

From afar, the rows of knobby grapevines blend into the landscape of pink-blossomed almond trees and fragrant citrus. But get up close and you’ll see something strange: The trunks of the vines are standing in several inches of glistening, precious water. 

These grapes, at the Kearney Agricultural Research Center in California’s San Joaquin Valley, are part of a grand experiment that many hope will help solve the state’s deepening water crisis. Here, in the state that provides some 40 percent of all the fresh produce grown in the United States, a 20-year-long drought has left growers and communities desperately short of water. To make up the persistent shortfall from rain and snow, they are pumping groundwater—and doing so far faster than water can trickle down from the surface to replenish underground aquifers. … ”

Read the full story at National Geographic here (note: registration required): The deceptively simple plan to replenish California’s groundwater

Could Solar Development Advance Groundwater Sustainability in the San Joaquin Valley?

March 24, 2022

The San Joaquin Valley is facing a monumental shift in land use over the next two decades. Two important but seemingly unrelated laws are driving the change: the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which aims to bring groundwater basins into balance by the early 2040s, and SB 100, which intends to help California achieve 100% clean power statewide by 2045.

SGMA may require fallowing at least 500,000 acres of cropland in the San Joaquin Valley (10%) by 2040. A significant expansion of solar energy production to meet SB 100 goals, on the other hand, will demand a large amount of land. Promoting solar expansion on fallowed farmland in the San Joaquin Valley could support two major objectives at once: supporting the state’s clean energy goals while easing the economic pain of transitioning some land away from agriculture.

Click here to read more from the PPIC.

New Data Shows Subsidence Continued in Water Year 2021, But Pace Slower than Seen in Previous Droughts

March 24, 2022

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) released new satellite-based data that show subsidence – or the sinking of the land surface due to excessive groundwater pumping – continues in the state. DWR has intensified statewide subsidence monitoring to help identify impacts and address them collaboratively with local groundwater agencies, counties and landowners.

The areas experiencing the most subsidence during Water Year 2021 (WY 2021) are in the San Joaquin Valley, with a maximum of 1.1 feet of subsidence observed in the region and the Sacramento Valley with a maximum of 0.7 feet in the region. Data show that in WY 2021 subsidence of greater than 0.5 feet per year expanded to more areas than observed in WY 2020. However, fewer areas experienced higher rates of subsidence than at the end of the last drought in 2016.

Click here to read more from DWR News.

Category: DWR Updates
Keywords: Land Subsidence