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.
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 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.
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.