Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

Major changes are in store for California farmers as a result of the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The 2014 act requires that groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) be created by January of 2020 for 43 high priority basins and 84 medium priority basins in California, and that Groundwater Sustainability Agencies be established for those areas. During GSP development, SGMA prohibits groundwater users from increasing their water usage to expand appropriative rights.

With the inability to increase their water usage and the potential of having less water allocated in the future, farmers envision changes in the types of crops they grow, spending more time monitoring wells, changing methods of irrigation, and having to allow some land to sit fallow. These alterations in practices will be necessary to allow SGMA to achieve its goal of sustainable management of California’s groundwater supplies by 2042.

Preparations for the affects of SGMA have already begun. In 2015, a preliminary list of overdraft sub basins was created and was finalized in 2016. By June 30th, 2017, 99% of the high and medium priority groundwater basins met one of the key SGMA requirements by forming locally controlled Ground Water Sustainability Agencies (GSAs). The GSAs will now work toward forming their groundwater sustainability plans by 2020 as well as looking at ways to solve the problems that have led to this point.

Nearly 40 years ago, a study of groundwater supplies showed that 40 of the state’s 450 groundwater basins were seeing a lowering of the water table as a result of water being extracted, much of it for agriculture production.  Succeeding decades have only worsened the situation. Droughts have prevented sufficient replenishment of surface water supplies, forcing growers, developers and other to tap groundwater supplies to a greater extent.

One of the biggest questions farmers are faced with now is just how much will the implementation of SGMA shape how they use water. Most would agree at this point that a fundamental adjustment is needed to bring water supplies in balance with demands, however there is less agreement when it comes to what those adjustments should be.We will be keeping an eye on how the GSPs are developed in the next few years and the changes that will come with them.  One thing is certain, that changes to management and use of water in the $20 billion California agriculture industry are on the horizon and it may take growers some time to adjust.