Understanding the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is important for navigating water risk. Equally as important is understanding the government organizations that play a key part in water supply under SGMA. The federal, state, and local government agencies all have a part to play in California’s water supply challenge.
The most important agency that handles federal water is the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR). USBR operates the Central Valley Project (CVP) depicted in Figure 1. While the federal government has specific rights to groundwater and surface water, they are also subject to California water regulations and must obtain permits just like other local and state agencies in order to exercise many of their rights. Federal water rights are typically not an issue unless a federal reservation, including military bases and Native American reservations, is involved. An area where the federal government plays a critical role in in the operation of dams. Dam operation typically involves the United States Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) for flood control purposes, but also may be jointly operated with local water districts and private entities.
In addition to water operations, federal regulatory policy regarding endangered species and wetlands may impact water deliveries. Changes in species protection may influence the amount of water that must be reserved for habitat restoration. For example, the Delta Smelt is a threatened species which causes changes to water allocations and transfer from the Sacramento Delta. Downgrading or declaring the Delta Smelt as endangered would have large impacts to water management for both the SWP and CVP. Impacts to federal surface water delivery can reduce available water supply to growers subject to SGMA, thus creating a potential gap between water supply and demand. With restrictions on groundwater supplies, the gap will need alternative supplies to water to avoid adverse impacts to crop production.
California has a primary role in water regulation. Two primary agencies impact state water management and operations: Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). DWR operates the SWP and the Oroville Dam, along with other co-managed and financed water infrastructure projects. DWR is also the granting agency for money from Proposition 1 and other important water grant and finance programs available to local governments, nonprofits, and stakeholders.
By contrast, the SWRCB primarily deals with enforcement of regulations and water use adjudications. The SWRCB handles water right petitions, violations, and changes. Also, they operate safe drinking water testing operations and water monitoring programs. SWRCB does not operate water infrastructure or supply water to entities.
In relation to SGMA, DWR is the primary technical assistance agency and will evaluate the GSPs for compliance with SGMA. SWRCB is the enforcement agency and receives referrals from DWR for those GSAs that are on probation for non-compliance with SGMA. The goal of most GSAs and their sister local agencies is to ensure enough compliance to avoid SWRCB intervention.
While the state has strong regulatory powers, local agencies like counties, water districts and GSAs are given significant land and water management control within the state regulatory framework. County governments have long been quasi-water regulators through their land-use regulation powers. Water drilling permits are typically handled at the county level and zoning implications impact water use at the periphery of urban, suburban, industrial, and agricultural zones. However, under SGMA, groundwater regulation lies primarily with the local GSA in medium and high priority basins. GSAs are tasked with creating GSPs and bringing their local groundwater basin into sustainable yield. Many of the GSA boards are made up of water district and county government representatives.
Finally, water districts, which include water agencies, irrigation districts, water conservation districts, and others play a significant role in surface water deliveries and local water management programs. Water districts are a type of special district that is required to have a board and public meetings. Public meetings are one opportunity for the community and stakeholder groups to voice concerns and share ideas on GSP formation and enforcement.
AQUAOSO assists clients in identifying, understanding, monitoring, and mitigating water risk. Understanding how government agencies impact a parcel of agricultural land is daunting. We collect information to assist clients in understanding GSAs, water districts, state, and federal government impact on water risk. Knowing the players will assist in preparing for and surviving SGMA’s new requirements.
Image of map from Wikicommons
Water deliveries through these systems are heavily impacted by SWP and CVP allocations and precipitation patterns. Each year, DWR and USBR set allocation percentages for the various water recipients that have contracts for SWP or CVP water respectively. Both agencies may change this allocation as conditions change based on water supply models. The contracts are typically multiple decades, but some agencies have shorter-term contracts. Understanding the allocation percentages and the amount a water agency has contracted for aides determining water supply. AQUAOSO tracks the CVP and SWP contractual data and water deliveries associated with those contracts to bolster our analysis.
Another important water system group includes local waterways such as rivers, lakes, streams, and groundwater basins. Some water agencies derive a significant amount of water from local water systems. Local surface water systems are connected to the groundwater basins they interact with. Changes in pressure from groundwater pumping can have detrimental impacts to surface water supplies by turning a gaining stream into a losing stream.
SGMA requires GSAs to take into account the groundwater and surface water interactions when determining how they will regulate groundwater in their GSP. While managing both groundwater and surface water split among multiple local agencies will present challenges, treating water as a cohesive system may prove beneficial for water managers.