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State calls on local agencies to protect groundwater

Issue Date: November 24, 2021
By Christine Souza

For the first time in California history, local agencies and groundwater users are required to form groundwater sustainability agencies and develop and implement plans to guide how they will achieve groundwater basin sustainability goals over the next 20 years.

As part of this process, agencies overseeing management of high- and medium-priority groundwater basins have until Jan. 31, 2022, to submit groundwater sustainability plans to the state to be reviewed by the California Department of Water Resources, the agency tasked with evaluating and assessing the plans.

Last week, the agency released its second round of assessments of plans developed by local agencies required to bring groundwater basins into sustainability for the future. The actions are mandated under the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA.

The first round of assessments for critically overdrafted basins happened in June.

"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 approved plans for the Oxnard Subbasin and the Pleasant Valley Basin in Ventura County and the North and South Yuba subbasins in Yuba County. In doing so, it recommended corrective actions for groundwater sustainability agencies to address in their next updated plan due in January 2025. The GSAs for these basins will continue implementing plans to achieve groundwater sustainability.

DWR has notified agencies 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 details and need to address deficiencies to be approved. Before making a final determination, DWR is requesting a consultation meeting with the GSAs to discuss actions and time necessary to improve the plans.

"The Department of Water Resources is working very collaboratively with all groundwater sustainability agencies to help them address any deficiencies," said Danny Merkley, California Farm Bureau director of water resources.

The four basins must address effects of chronic lowering of groundwater levels and land subsidence conditions on groundwater users. The GSAs will need to further analyze drinking water impacts, including 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, according to DWR.

SGMA lays out a process for continuous improvement, and plans will be updated as new information becomes available and conditions change. DWR will review annual reports and assess each plan every five years.

Paul Gosselin, DWR deputy director of sustainable groundwater management, is scheduled to lead a breakout session on Dec. 6, during the 103rd California Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Garden Grove, Merkley said.

The goal under SGMA is that critically overdrafted and high- and medium-priority basins reach sustainability by 2040 and 2042, respectively. Groundwater sustainability plans submitted to DWR will be posted at sgma.water.ca.gov/portal/gsp/all.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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