With the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”) taking effect on January 1, 2015, the California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) is in full swing of holding public workshops and information sessions to solicit input from stakeholders and other members of the public as well as to answer questions regarding SGMA’s various milestone requirements.

On July 20, 2015, DWR held its most recent information session. DWR staff outlined the key topics relating to groundwater basin boundary “emergency regulations” and development of Groundwater Sustainability Plan (“GSP”) regulations.

The July 20 discussion started with a brief overview that SGMA is premised on the idea that local management of groundwater is best, and above all, management needs to be done with sustainable practices. Procedurally, DWR formulates SGMA regulations, the California Water Commission adopts the regulations, and the State Water Resources Control Board serves as an advisor.

Discussion then turned to an open dialogue between DWR staff and members of the public and DWR’s emergency regulations, which were released just days earlier following approval from the California Water Commission. DWR is required under SGMA (Water Code sec. 10722.2) to adopt emergency regulations by January 1, 2016, with these regulations intended to provide the methodology and criteria that DWR will apply when reviewing and approving requests from local agencies to modify groundwater basin boundaries. Existing basin boundaries are identified in DWR Bulletin 118 (2003). Based on local dynamics – political or scientific – local agencies may want to request basin boundary modifications to better fit the conditions in a particular geographic area. If making such a request, the draft regulations require the local agency to assess the likelihood that the proposed basin can be sustainably managed. Part of that analysis involves use of quantitative terms such as “significant” or “unreasonable” to assess impacts that might result from a basin boundary modification or a particular set of management practices. These terms are not defined in the draft regulations, and while creating flexibility, public comments suggest that the terms leave much to be desired to enhance certainty for planning and compliance with SGMA.

As for GSP regulations, the timeline is staggered on a later timeline than the basin boundary regulations. This particular topic on the July 20 agenda was more of advance notice that the draft regulations are anticipated to be available during December 2015. Meanwhile, “discussion papers” are being developed by DWR through a series of ten topics intended to organize issues with GSP formation and implementation. The first batch of discussion papers has been released, focusing on: (1) Pre-SGMA Conditions and Undesirable Results; (2) Measurable Objectives and Interim Milestones; and (3) Land Use and County Involvement. Draft discussion papers on the next two batches of topics are planned for release in August and September 2015.

This blog will continue to monitor this situation as DWR holds additional meetings and formulates more regulations intended for implementing SGMA.