What is the “Sustainable Groundwater Management" Act?
In September 2014, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed a three-bill package known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (PDF). The legislation allows local agencies to customize new GSPs to their regional economic and environmental needs. SGMA creates a framework for sustainable, local groundwater management for the first time in California history.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA):
- Adopts a state definition of “sustainable groundwater management”
- Prioritizes groundwater basins and sub-basins in the state subject to SGMA
- Empowers and requires local agencies to achieve sustainability
- Establishes a uniform institutional framework for local groundwater management planning
- Respects regional differences and provides local agencies flexibility to tailor plans that meet their needs
- Provides state technical assistance
- Improves coordination between land use and groundwater planning
- Provides for state review of groundwater sustainability plans and state intervention authority when local action has been insufficient
- Protects water rights
SGMA requires local agencies in high- and medium-priority basins to establish a new governance structure, known as Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA), by June 30, 2017.
SGMA requires the new GSAs to prepare GSPs for high- and medium-priority basins and sub-basins by either:
- January 31, 2020 for “critically overdrafted” basins and sub-basins
- January 31, 2022 for all other high- and medium-priority basins and sub-basins
SGMA defines “critically overdrafted” as “A basin is subject to critical overdraft when continuation of present water management practices would probably result in significant adverse overdraft-related environmental, social, or economic impacts.”
What is “Sustainable Groundwater Management”?
SGMA defines sustainable groundwater management as managing and using groundwater in a way that can be sustained over a long period of time. Specifically, SGMA defines sustainable yield as the amount of groundwater that can be withdrawn annually without causing any of the six SGMA undesirable results, including chronically lowering groundwater levels, significantly reducing groundwater storage, causing seawater intrusion, degrading water quality, causing land subsidence or depleting interconnected surface water (for example, creeks, streams and rivers) in a manner that causes significant and unreasonable impacts.
What areas of Kern County are affected by SGMA?
SGMA requires the three following basins that underlie part or all of Kern County to form GSAs and prepare and implement GSPs by 2020.
- Cuyama Valley Basin – high-priority and critically overdrafted
- Indian Wells Valley Basin– medium-priority and critically overdrafted
- Kern County Sub-basin – high-priority and critically overdrafted
SGMA requirements do not apply to adjudicated groundwater basins, which are basins where the courts have set the groundwater extraction amounts for basin pumpers. However, adjudicated basins have new annual reporting requirements to the state under SGMA.
Who will be the new GSAs in Kern County?
SGMA defines GSA-eligible entities as any local agency that has water supply, water management or land use responsibilities within a groundwater basin. Any GSA-eligible entity or combination of GSA-eligible entities can form the GSA. The GSA will have regulatory authority to set fees, require reporting, regulate how much groundwater is pumped, and monitor wells. The GSA can also build capital projects to help achieve groundwater sustainability, including developing additional water supplies or enhancing groundwater recharge. The agencies eligible to serve as GSAs in the basins and sub-basins within Kern County are listed below.
Entities eligible to serve as GSAs:
Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin
- City of Ridgecrest
- Indian Wells Valley Water District
- Inyo County
- Inyokern Community Services District
- Kern County
- San Bernardino County
Kern County Sub-Basin
- Arvin-Edison Water Storage District
- Cawelo Water District
- City of Shafter
- Kern County
- Kern County Water Agency
- Kern County Water Agency Improvement District 4
- Kern Delta Water District
- Kern-Tulare Water District
- Kern Water Bank Authority
- North Kern Water Storage District
- Olcese Water District
- Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District
- Semitropic Water Storage District
- Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District
- Southern San Joaquin Municipal Utility District
- Tejon-Castaic Water District
- West Kern Water District
- Westside District Water Authority
- Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District
- Kern County
- San Luis Obispo County
- Santa Barbara County
- Ventura County
If no agency steps forward to manage groundwater, the overlying county becomes the default GSA, unless it opts out. If the County opts out, the State Water Resources Control Board will step in. If multiple agencies within a basin express an interest in managing groundwater, the agencies must coordinate on development and implementation of a GSP.
What if my Kern County property is not in a city or water district?
SGMA gives responsibility to Kern County for properties located in unmanaged areas. Unmanaged area means that if you’re not in the jurisdiction of a city, water district, or other qualified public agency, then the County is your political representative with regard to groundwater. See our district map (PDF) to determine if you are in an unmanaged area.
Kern County is ready to provide information and assistance about how SGMA might affect your property. Also, we encourage you to view the State of California SGM website and the Kern Groundwater Authority website for more information. For questions, contact Alan Christensen.
Will there be one GSA or several?
Through the stakeholder assessment and conversations with GSA-eligible entity staff and existing Basin Advisory Panels in the Kern County and Indian Wells Valley groundwater basins, a few important considerations emerged:
- The GSAs should provide for local control with key management decisions at the basin level within each basin.
- The GSPs should build off or leverage the existing groundwater management programs.
- Groundwater and surface water interaction should be managed as part of the GSPs, which is also a SGMA requirement.
- The structure and process should be kept as simple as possible.
In the Indian Wells Valley basin, the GSA-eligible entities are recommending a skeleton structure of one GSA and one GSP. The GSA would be responsible for implementing SGMA in its basin, would possess all GSA authorities provided for in the law, and be responsible for developing and implementing the GSP. The GSA would develop its own legal framework and voting structure. The legal framework could be a memorandum of understanding among the participating agencies, a joint powers authority, a special district, or other structure. That decision is (shortly) down the road.
In the Kern County sub-basin, there are differing opinions on whether there should be multiple GSAs, how many GSAs there should be, and who should be the GSAs. More information will be provided as the process develops.
As required under SGMA, the GSAs will be committed to information sharing across basins. Coordination between GSAs must occur for all external-facing activities and for developing common basic tools to support groundwater management (for example, data management systems, regional studies or projects). Each GSA will retain its own independent authorities and would need to ratify recommendations that emerged through inter-basin coordination.
Will stakeholders and the general public be involved in implementing the SGMA?
SGMA requires that the GSA-eligible entities notify groundwater users and the general public and hold a public hearing on the formation of the GSA. SGMA also requires the GSA to consider the interests of all beneficial uses and users of groundwater in the development and implementation of the GSP. Given the critical role of local agencies, agriculture, the environmental community, and private well owners, it is anticipated that diverse stakeholders and the public at large will continue to be involved in implementing SGMA in Kern County. Collaboration, stakeholder involvement and public support will be key to the successful implementation of SGMA.
Who will pay for the implementation of SGMA and any programs/projects?
SGMA intends for the new GSAs to be self-funded and sustainably financed. Recognizing the need to help seed the start-up of the new GSAs and new GSPs, Proposition 1, approved by the voters in November 2014, contains $100 million sustainable groundwater management funding that will be available for grants to help fund GSA formation and GSP preparation. Kern County received a $500,000 grant from the Department of Water Resources (DWR) in 2016 to help fund GSA formation and beginning projects to help start GSP preparation in the Kern County and Indian Wells Valley groundwater basins. Other portions of the $7.5 billon Proposition 1 will be available as grant funds for related programs and projects. Some in-kind funding is also available and DWR is providing a facilitator for GSA formation meetings and activities in the Indian Wells Valley groundwater basin.
The new law allows for the GSA(s) to collect fees to help pay for the costs of preparing and implementing the GSP, including new programs and projects to achieve groundwater sustainability in the high- and medium-priority basins. Fees will need to be assessed in order to meet SGMA requirements that these basins become sustainably managed within 20 years of adoption of GSPs.
How will the new law affect me?
SGMA gives GSAs broad authority to manage groundwater, including authority to increase groundwater supply (for example, projects to increase groundwater recharge or replenishment), to conduct studies and monitoring, and, if necessary, to regulate groundwater extraction. While SGMA does authorize GSAs to measure groundwater extraction at the cost of well owners, domestic wells that use less than 2 acre-feet per year are exempt from measurement (an acre-foot is equivalent to 325,851 gallons or the amount of water is takes to cover an acre with one foot of water). GSAs also have authority to assess fees for the costs of groundwater management activities, including GSP preparation. Any GSA(s) established in Kern County will decide which of these measures, if any, are needed to sustainably manage groundwater in each affected basin. Once GSAs are formed and plans are adopted, the impacts could vary depending on where your well is located and the amount of water you pump annually; the local GSA will decide what is necessary to sustainably manage groundwater in its basin.
Will SGMA increase what I pay for water?
Under SGMA, GSAs may charge groundwater users to help cover the cost of groundwater management.
Will the SGMA affect my water rights?
SGMA specifies that the act and any groundwater management plans developed as a result of SGMA will not affect surface or groundwater rights. See Water Code Section 10720.5.
Will SGMA limit how much groundwater I can use?
Locally developed GSPs will include programs and projects needed for each basin to become sustainable within 20 years. Under SGMA, it is possible that a local GSP could limit the amount of water pumped by individual well owners. The GSA can decide to limit groundwater extraction (pumping) based on the specific conditions in the affected groundwater basin, and only after considering the needs of all groundwater uses and users.
How can I get involved on a GSA Committee?
The Policy Advisory Committee Application should be printed and filled out in legible handwriting. Once fully completed, the form must be scanned and submitted by email in PDF format to Alan Christensen at