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Groundwater: ‘Strategic plan’ outlines DWR role in new laws

Issue Date: March 18, 2015
By Kate Campbell

As state and local agencies begin to implement new groundwater laws, the California Department of Water Resources has released a "draft strategic plan" covering its role in implementing the laws—and farm organizations urge their members to review the document carefully.

The draft plan, released late last week, lays out DWR's responsibilities in implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

"This draft document is still being shaped," said Danny Merkley, California Farm Bureau Federation water resources director, "and it's imperative that farmers and ranchers who depend on groundwater supplies for their business take a close look at the details of this proposal before the plan is finalized."

Merkley said he believed DWR had done a good job preparing the plan to help local agencies meet "very tight deadlines," and said review and comments by farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations would help the department refine the plan.

"The water supply implications of the plan are far-reaching and folks will have to live with the results for a long time," he said.

Merkley noted that a number of Farm Bureau members serve on the boards of local water agencies, and said the draft implementation strategy needs to be analyzed from both a personal and a community perspective in preparation for proposed regulations that will follow.

"Successful implementation of these laws will require good communication and engagement," said David Gutierrez, executive program manager for the DWR Groundwater Sustainability Program, adding that the draft strategic plan spells out "DWR's vision for providing support and technical advice."

On average, DWR said, groundwater provides about 40 percent of total annual agricultural and urban water uses in California. In dry years, the proportion may be as high as 60 percent. Some areas are 100 percent dependent on groundwater for supply.

When he signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act into law, Gov. Jerry Brown said the laws recognize that "groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally." The new laws charge DWR with providing guidance and technical support to local agencies.

Under the SGMA, local entities must form sustainable groundwater management agencies by June 30, 2017, for basins established by DWR as high and medium priority under the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring Program.

By the beginning of 2020, these groundwater agencies must have adopted groundwater sustainability plans for high- and medium-priority basins in critical overdraft. Agencies for all other high- and medium-priority basins must adopt groundwater sustainability plans by 2022. The laws allow for state intervention through the State Water Resources Control Board if a local agency fails to manage its groundwater sustainably.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act directs DWR to adopt regulations for local agency oversight, including setting basin boundaries and conducting assessments. The department said the draft strategic plan does the following:

  • Outlines requirements of the new laws, including a timeline;
  • Relates actions to the California Water Action Plan, the governor's five-year strategy for "more resilient and reliable" water resources;
  • Lists key intended outcomes and benefits of SGMA implementation;
  • Identifies DWR goals, objectives and corresponding actions;
  • Describes potential challenges and factors for implementation success, including public outreach and communication.

"DWR is central to providing guidance and assistance to local groundwater management efforts," CFBF Associate Counsel Jack Rice said. "It's helpful DWR has developed this strategic plan so early in the process, and we appreciate the extraordinary effort to meet the deadline so groundwater users and managers have the opportunity to review the draft plan and provide comments."

Written comments on the draft strategic plan are due to DWR by June 1. Comments may be sent to or by mail to DWR, P.O. Box 942836, Sacramento, CA, 94236. Attn: Lauren Bisnett.

DWR said it would consider all comments before finalizing the plan.

For information on groundwater, go to Details of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and its implementation are available at To sign up for email updates on the plan, see

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

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

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