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- Review the Indio Subbasin Communication Plan which will be updated as a “living document”
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News and Announcements
Annual Update – March 2023
This month, the Indio Subbasin GSAs are working on the following items:
- Indio Subbasin Annual Report for Water Year 2021-22 will submitted to DWR by April 1, 2023.
- A Public Workshop on the Annual Report was held on March 16, 2023 at 10-11:30 pm – see materials from the meeting below.
Feedback from stakeholders and community members is crucial to the Plan Update! Public workshops were held quarterly to update interested residents and stakeholders during the Alternative Plan Update process. The GSAs continue to hold annual meetings to update the public about SGMA implementation. The public workshops will include presentations on data, information, and analysis compiled for the planning process, as well as activities to solicit input and feedback from participants on plan direction. We invite all interested residents, businesses, and public agencies to join us and provide input at our public workshops:
The SGMA Tribal Workgroup was established to guide submittal and DWR approval of the Alternative Plan. The GSAs held quarterly meetings with the Tribal Workgroup during the development of the plan to ensure regional water management efforts, such as the long-term implementation of the Plan Update, sustainably manage the groundwater basin for all users. GSAs continue to hold annual meetings to update the tribal community on SGMA implementation. Meeting notes and materials are included below.
The Indio Subbasin is part of the Coachella Valley Groundwater Basin, which is designated as Basin No. 7-12.01 in the DWR Bulletin 118 (DWR, 2003). See map below. The basin is surrounded by the San Bernardino Mountains on the north, the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains on the west, the Little San Bernardino Mountains on the east and the Salton Sea on the south. Adjacent groundwater subbasins are also shown in the map below.
An aquifer can be thought of as an underground reservoir for groundwater. An aquifer is a layer of rock or sediment that stores water in the spaces between sand, soils, and fractured rock. Groundwater stored in deep aquifers have accumulated over centuries or millennia.
A groundwater basin is made up of several layers of aquifers, typically separated by different soil or rock types. Water fills the spaces under clay and in between the sand and gravel. Water within the Indio Subbasin slowly moves from the upper valley in the northwest towards the Salton Sea in the southeast.
Groundwater basins can be replenished naturally and artificially when water from the surface is allowed to seep into the soil. The Indio Subbasin is replenished naturally with mountain precipitation that flows downstream to the Whitewater River. Water agencies in the Coachella Valley also artificially replenish the groundwater with imported water that is pumped into what are known as “recharge ponds” and allowed to seep into the ground.
SGMA defines groundwater sustainability as “the management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results.” What does this mean? A sustainable groundwater basin is one in which the water use is balanced with the water replenishment from rainfall, surface water, and other sources.
The earth has limited supplies of water. Groundwater and surface water are essentially one resource, physically connected by the water cycle in which water evaporates, forms clouds, and falls to the ground as rain or snow. Some of this precipitation seeps into the ground and becomes groundwater that moves slowly into an underground aquifer. If there is no precipitation, then there is no water returning to the groundwater below and the groundwater supply is not “recharged” or refilled.
The Indio Subbasin has been managed for many years by the local water agencies. The Subbasin is divided into two management areas: the West Whitewater River and the East Whitewater River management areas. The dividing line between these two management areas is an irregular line (see map below) which stretches between Washington Street and Point Happy to the Indio Hills near Jefferson street.
The West Whitewater River management area is jointly managed by Coachella Valley Water District and Desert Water Agency under the terms of the 1976 Water Management Agreement. The East Whitewater River management area is managed by the Coachella Valley Water District. Desert Water Agency and Coachella Valley Water District operate a groundwater replenishment program to help fund groundwater recharge into the Indio Subbasin. CWA, IWA, and other large private and municipal pumpers pay a “Replenishment Assessment Charge” for each acre-foot of groundwater pumped.
The Indio Subbasin Alternative Plan continues water management efforts began in 2002 with development of the 2002 Coachella Valley Water Management Plan, while updating Subbasin information and management strategies in compliance with new State regulations. The Alternative Plan will describe a pathway for managing the groundwater basin and describe measures to ensure that the Indio Subbasin operates within a sustainable goal for groundwater use. See the “What is the Alternative Plan” below for more information.
What Is SGMA (5)
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), signed into law in 2014, provides a framework for long-term sustainable groundwater management across California. SGMA applies to all California groundwater basins and requires that local and regional authorities in designated medium- and high-priority groundwater basins form a locally-controlled and governed Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), which will prepare and implement a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) or an Alternative Plan. In the case of the Indio Subbasin, the region’s water purveyors had already developed an Alternative Plan (the 2010 Coachella Valley Water Management Plan Update) which was submitted to the State under SGMA. Of the 109 medium- and high-priority basins identified by the California Department of Water Resources, the Indio Subbasin Alternative Plan is only one of nine approved alternative plans under SGMA.
SGMA is not directly related to drought; sustainable groundwater management is a long-term vision and commitment to manage groundwater judiciously so that it is protected for future use. In many areas, over time, the water table, or the depth at which groundwater can be found, has gotten much deeper below the surface. As demand for groundwater has increased, more water is being drawn out of aquifers than is replaced or replenished. Low groundwater levels can cause a number of undesirable results such as land subsidence (sinking of the ground’s surface). Some California groundwater basins have reached all-time historic lows. Creating a framework for State oversight (through SGMA) ensures a standard, consistent process to maintain and actively monitor and manage basins at the local level.
Over the years, California water managers have observed a decline in water levels in aquifers in some areas of the state. Impacts and issues related to the decline is apparent. For example, some wells in the Central Valley have experienced declines in excess of 100 feet during the drought and increases in groundwater pumping have exacerbated some areas of land subsidence, which threatens infrastructure such as roads, canals and bridges. In January 2014, the California Governor’s Office identified groundwater management as one of ten key action steps in its California Water Action Plan. SGMA, signed into law months later, follows up on that action, giving local agencies the ability to manage their respective basins following statewide guidelines.
SGMA does not change existing groundwater rights. Groundwater rights will continue to be subject to regulation under the California Constitution.
SGMA provides a framework for improving management of groundwater supplies by local authorities. SGMA actually limits State intervention, provided that local agencies develop and implement GSPs or Alternative Plans as required by the legislation. Under SGMA, local agencies now have tools and authorities some agencies previously lacked to manage for sustainability. Under a limited set of circumstances, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) may step in to help protect local groundwater resources. The process of SWRCB only occurs if local efforts to form a GSA or develop and implement a viable GSP are not successful. In the Indio Subbasin, we have four approved GSAs and an approved Alternative Plan.
What Is The GSP (6)
A Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) or Alternative Plan is a document that outlines how the GSAs will implement, manage and measure the results of specific actions for the health and viability of the groundwater basin. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) will evaluate GSPs or Alternative Plan to provide the GSA with an assessment of the plan and any necessary recommendations every five years following its establishment.
Twenty years before the adoption of SGMA, Coachella Valley Water District began development of the 2002 Coachella Valley Water Management Plan to address groundwater sustainability in the Subbasin. That plan was updated in 2010 as the 2010 Coachella Valley Water Management Plan Update. In 2014 and 2016, Coachella Valley Water Management Plan Status Reports were prepared to review the planning assumptions and implementation status. Annual reports describing changes in water supply and demand and updates to management actions, as required under Section 356.2 of the GSP Emergency Regulations, are submitted to DWR. The Indio Subbasin Annual Report for Water Year 2018-2019, the third annual report for the Indio Subbasin, is expected to be submitted in March 2020.
A GSP is the plan outlining how to achieve sustainably managed groundwater that meets the requirements of SGMA. GSAs in high and medium priority groundwater basins are required to submit a GSP to the State. The plan must outline how the GSA will implement, manage and measure specific actions to groundwater achieve sustainability within 20 years. If a GSA already has an existing groundwater management plan that is functionally equivalent to a GSP, they were able to submit it for DWR approval.
In January 2017, the Coachella Valley Water District, Desert Water Agency, Coachella Water Authority, and Indio Water Authority collaboratively submitted the 2010 Coachella Valley Water Management Plan Update, the 2016 SGMA Alternative Groundwater Sustainability Plan Bridge Document for the Indio Subbasin, and other supporting documents as an Alternative Plan to a GSP for the Subbasin, which was subsequently approved by DWR on July 17, 2019.
SGMA mandates that all GSPs and Alternative Plans be updated every five years. In its approval of the Indio Subbasin Alternative Plan, DWR has indicated that the first five-year update to the Alternative Plan needs to be submitted to DWR by January 1, 2022.
SGMA strongly encourages closer planning coordination between water supply and land use agencies to ensure water supply planning accurately forecasts and secures water supplies for future land use changes, and that land use planning considers the effects of projected growth on water resource management. Local agencies are required to acknowledge GSPs or Alternative Plans when a legislative body is adopting or substantially amending its General Plan. General Plans must accurately reflect the information in the GSP with regards to available water supplies. In addition, a city or county must now refer the proposed adoption or substantial amendment of a General Plan to any affected GSA(s). In response, the GSA(s) must provide the land use agency with the current version of its GSP and any information that is relevant to determining the adequacy of existing and planned future water supplies to meet existing and planned future demands.
Who Is The GSA? (5)
A Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) is one or more local governmental agencies that implement the provisions of SGMA. A local agency is defined as one that has water supply, water management or land management authority. The primary purpose of a GSA under SGMA is to develop and implement a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) or Alternative Plan to achieve long-term groundwater sustainability.
The first requirement of SGMA was to form a GSA by June 2017. The Coachella Valley Water District, Desert Water Agency, Coachella Water Authority, and Indio Water Authority each submitted application materials to become a GSA for different portions of the Subbasin that overlap their service area. Since establishing as GSAs, those four water agencies have worked together to implement SGMA requirements. See map below for more information on the service area of each agency within the Subbasin.
Under SGMA, GSAs are empowered to utilize a number of new management tools to achieve groundwater sustainability, such as:
- Adopt rules, regulations, ordinances, and resolutions to implement the Act,
- Monitor compliance and enforcement,
- Require registration of groundwater extraction facilities (wells),
- Require appropriate measurement devices and reporting of extractions,
- Investigate, appropriate, and acquire surface water rights and groundwater rights,
- Acquire or augment local water supplies to enhance the sustainability of the groundwater basin,
- Propose and collect fees, and
- Impose limits on groundwater extraction.
The GSA may use a number of management tools to achieve sustainability goals. The specific tools and methods the GSA will use to achieve sustainability will be determined in discussion with stakeholders and identified in the GSP or Alternative Plan.
The four GSA agencies are working together under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was signed in 2018. These agencies are each exclusive GSAs that oversee and manage portions of the Indio Subbasin that overlay each of their respective service areas.
DWR is the State agency responsible for oversight of the GSAs and GSPs. DWR has a list of regulations, objectives and actions formulated to assist local agencies and GSAs with the preparation and implementation of GSPs. Under law, all regulations adopted by DWR only become effective upon approval by the California Water Commission. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) acts as the enforcement agency that reviews water use data and has the authority to directly manage basins as a result of failure by locals to comply with SGMA requirements (i.e. create a GSA, adopt and implement a GSP).