California has moved one step closer to implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”), California’s landmark groundwater legislation. On Wednesday, May 18, the California Water Commission adopted a set of regulations that will govern the creation of groundwater sustainability plans (“GSPs”) by local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (“GSAs”). The emergency regulations, developed by the Department of Water Resources (“DWR”), take effect in June.

The new regulations will have some real impacts on GSAs and their implementation of SGMA. The most significant requirements include:

  • GSAs will be required to conduct extensive monitoring and data collection, as well as to develop “water budgets” that quantify the current, historical, and projected change in water volumes stored within the basin. In creating these water budgets GSAs must consider land use planning, climate change, population growth, and projected groundwater and surface water supply and demand.
  • Each GSA must establish minimum thresholds that represent a point in the basin that, if exceeded, may cause undesirable results. GSPs must set thresholds for six key areas:
    • chronic lowering of groundwater levels,
    • storage reduction,
    • seawater intrusion,
    • degraded water quality,
    • land subsidence, and
    • depletions of surface water.
  • GSPs must include measurable objectives, including interim milestones in increments of five years, to achieve the sustainability goal for the basin within 20 years of GSP implementation.
  • DWR will evaluate GSPs on the somewhat flexible “substantial compliance” standard of review. Substantial compliance means that the supporting information is sufficiently detailed and the analyses sufficiently thorough and reasonable to achieve the sustainability goal for the basin. DWR will periodically review GSPs to insure they are being implemented in a manner that will achieve sustainability.
  • GSAs must submit detailed annual reports to DWR following the adoption of their GSP. These reports must provide data regarding water supply and extraction for the preceding year.

While SGMA provides some flexibility in the creation of GSPs, GSAs should proceed cautiously because inadequate implementation can lead to intervention by the State Water Resources Control Board.