California Takes Steps to Restore Groundwater Basins to Sustainability
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has issued decisions for groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) for a dozen critically overdrafted groundwater basins. These plans provide a roadmap for how groundwater basins will reach long-term sustainability, while implementing near-term actions such as expanding monitoring programs, reporting annually on groundwater conditions, and implementing groundwater recharge projects.
The decisions mark a major step forward in implementing the state’s landmark 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which gives local agencies until 2040 to achieve groundwater sustainability. The agency recommended approval of plans for six California groundwater subbasins, while declaring six other plans to be “inadequate”, resulting in a review by the State Water Resources Control Board.
Basins deemed insufficient were not able to counteract the deficiencies in criteria of sustainable management, which enables a functioning range to stop effects such as overdraft, land sinkage, and groundwater levels within 20 years. The state reported that the plans failed to study and justify the continuing decrease of groundwater levels and land subsidence, and that they “lacked a clear understanding of how the management criteria may cause undesired effects on groundwater users in the basins or critical infrastructure.”
In response to the recent storms and the exacerbation of groundwater depletion through drought conditions, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Friday aimed at removing administrative barriers to collecting rain and snowmelt to replenish the state’s groundwater supplies.
The Water Resources Control Board of the state will supervise the next set of changes to the plans that were turned down, and the local agencies will have a period of at least one year to amend them. On Thursday, Natalie Stork, an official from the Water Board, held a press conference in which she warned that the state may take further action if local agencies do not remedy their issues. The plan also notes that the groundwater sustainability agencies will identify and enforce required pumping limitations in certain areas, with the goal of having all basins return to local management with a clear path on how to achieve sustainability within 20 years.
The DWR's decisions, as well as the executive order from Governor Newsom, are important steps in the process of restoring groundwater basins to sustainability. These actions will help protect groundwater users and critical infrastructure, while ensuring California farmers can continue to produce much of America's food supply.
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