The 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)

By Sheryl Hamlin

Hosted by the Board of the United Water Conservation District and held in the library of Fillmore, ailment California, order the three hour workshop summarized the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), doctor which was signed into law by Governor Brown in September of 2014.  Pronounced “sigma”, the SGMA will change water management across the entire state. The act is defined by three pieces of legislation: AB 1739 (Dickinson), SB 1168 (Pavley) and SB 1319 (Pavley).

The Association of California Water Agencies summarizes the legislation as follows:

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act empowers local agencies to manage groundwater basins in a sustainable manner over a long-term horizon. The Act provides five to seven years for locals to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) and to create a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). The plan would have a 20-year implementation horizon with the opportunity for two five-year extensions, if the agency is making progress towards sustainability.

Let’s look first at California’s groundwater basins. There are 515 district water basins according to California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR). Showing all 515 one map is difficult, however, the green color on the first image below shows the magnitude of their coverage. The hydrologic regions are defined in red. This map can be downloaded in a larger form. Immediately following is a map of the 32 basins in Ventura taken from the 2013 Ventura County Groundwater Section Annual Report.



What is a basin? A river basin is the portion of land drained by a river and its tributaries. It encompasses all land surface dissected and drained by many streams and creeks that flow downhill into one another.  Gravity pulls water toward the river and eventually into other rivers, oceans or diversions. In a previous Citizens Journal article, the Ventura County Freeman Diversion Dam was described.

What is the difference between a River Basin and a Watershed?  Both river basins and watersheds are areas of land that drain to a particular water body, such as a lake, stream, river or estuary. In a river basin, all the water drains to a large river. The term watershed is used to describe a smaller area of land that drains to a smaller stream, lake or wetland. There are many smaller watersheds within a river basin. Source.

California’s new laws are unique in that rather than a top-down implementation, homogenous across the entire 515 water basins, the laws specifically call for local control, which was highlighted by Rich Juricich of DWR in his presentation:

“A central feature of these bills is the recognition that groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally.” Governor Jerry Brown

Of the Ventura County ground water basins, the Santa Paula Basin is “adjudicated”. In an effort to prevent overdraft, a June 1991 judgment ordered the creation of the Santa Paula Basin Pumpers Association (SPBPA). The SPBPA regulates extractions in the Santa Paula Basin. The judgment stipulated an allotment of 27,000 acre-feet per year could be pumped from the basin. In the new SGMA, adjudicated basins will have special reporting requirements:

Adjudicated basins are required to submit to DWR a copy of a governing final judgment, or other judicial order or decree and any amendments entered before April 1, 2016. Section 10720.8.  After April 1, 2016, adjudicated basins are required to submit the following so that all adjudications can be monitored. Basins adjudicated after 1/1/2015 will be SGMA compliant.

–        Any amendment made to the decree or final judgment.

–        Groundwater elevation data unless submitted under Section 10932.

–        Annual aggregate data identifying extraction for the preceding year.

–        Surface water supply used for or available for groundwater recharge or in-lieu use.

–        Total water use.

–        Change in groundwater storage.

–        The annual report submitted to the court.

The SGMA requires a city or county planning agency, before adopting or substantially amending a general plan, to review and consider groundwater sustainability plans per Government Code Section 65352.5.

Although Sustainability Management is no longer voluntary, the local agency can create a plan tailored to its hydrology. There is a new authority in the law called a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) who will be responsible for the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). Almost any local agency can declare its intention to become the GSA for its basin: municipality, county, water agency, water supplier, for example. However, a mutual benefit association was not included in the original legislation, but it is possible that a subsequent iteration or ministerial change to the laws will include mutual benefit water associations. There are several such organizations in the Fillmore-Piru-Bardsdale areas whose representatives at this meeting expressed a desire to participate.

The law is very flexible, as Mr. Juricich’s presentation showed. There can be a Local Agency or combination of Local Agencies in these combinations. The image below shows this graphically. Note that the county becomes the GSA by default in the case where there are no local agencies to assume this role.

–        Single GSA, Single GSP

–        Multiple GSAs, Single GSP

–        Multiple GSAs, Multiple GSPs with “Coordination Agreement” (MOU/JPA)


The State Basin map shows how the basins flow from one to another. This is true of the GSA’s as well, so upstream and downstream water relationships must be coordinated and enumerated in the plan. Included in the Sustainabilty Plan could be, but not limited to, ground water measuring, storage, seawater intrusion, water quality, subsidence and surface water. The GMP must contain quantifiable, measurable objectives. GSA’s may collect fees, regulate pumping, space wells, fallow crops and acquire property for percolation ponds, just to name a few of the tools for this agency.

According to Mr. Morgan of UWCD, there are local exceptions to the GSA formation written in the law:

Local exceptions – Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency (FCGMA) and Ojai Groundwater Management Agency are deemed the exclusive local agencies within their respective statutory boundaries to be the GSA unless they elect to not assume the role

Sustainability Water Management is defined in Water Code §10721 as follows:

Management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results.

Mr. Morgan also said that the phrase “without causing undersirable results” may seem vague, but can be realized in these areas:

–        Chronic lowering of groundwater levels indicating a significant and unreasonable depletion of supply

–        Reductions in groundwater storage

–        Seawater intrusion

–        Degraded water quality

–        Land subsidence

–        Surface water depletions that have adverse impacts on beneficial uses

Environmental users will be included in the GSP and GSA’s will be required to respond to HCP (Habitat Conservation Plans).

How will these new GSP’s be funded initially? The Governor’s recent $1 billion water emergency fund as well as the Prop 1 water bond passed in 2014 allocates some monies to these planning projects. Additionally, the new GSA’s will be able to collect fees.

A discussion ensued as to the composition of the GSA for the Fillmore-Piru–Bardsdale areas. It was generally felt that UWCD should take the lead, although several agriculture pumpers in this area felt they should have a voice. The possibility of an Advisory Board to UWCD was mentioned. Future UWCD Board meetings will be discussing the formation of a GSA with possible voting. Today’s meeting was informational only, so there was no vote taken.


The State of California has much information on-line about these new agencies and laws:

  1. State:
  2. DWR:
  3. SWRCB:

Additionally, there is a mailing list for important updates:

On April 20, 2015 in the Bing Wong Lecture Hall in San Bernardino, there will be a two hour session where DWR will solicit input. If this is not convenient, there will be a webinar for on-line discussion.

The two presentations from the 4/1/2015 meeting may be downloaded here.

Ironically, as the presentation was in process, Governor Brown announced emergency sweeping drought restrictions.  With the sweep of a pen, the governor may have kick-started “sigma”.


Sheryl Hamlin: With an MS in Industrial Engineering, Sheryl Hamlin spent years in technology with stints at Motorola, Tandem Computers and various startups. She has been on the boards of neighborhood organizations both in San Francisco and Palm Springs where planning issues were her specialty. She now resides in Santa Paula and loves the historic fabric of the city.  Ms. Hamlin’s blog Stealth Fashion  and  technology product ‘ Plug and Play Webmaster’.

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