This post is part of our larger Comprehensive Guide To SGMA” 

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) to submit Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) that include mandatory sections discussing how the GSA intends to bring the underlying groundwater basin into sustainable yield.


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GSPs for GSAs in Critically Overdrafted Areas are due January 31st, 2020, and the rest of the high and medium priority GSAs need to have their plans completed by January 31st, 2022. For the agricultural sector, some of the biggest questions surrounding groundwater regulation are answered by the GSP including:

  • What is the sustainable yield for the basin?
  • Will there be restrictions to groundwater pumping for agricultural purposes? If so, what are those restrictions.
  • Are there land use impacts because due to overdraft?
  • Are their groundwater quality concerns in the basin?
  • Are their new fees?

While each GSP is designed and implemented at the local GSA level, there are requirements from the State regarding mandatory sections to include in the GSP. This guide is designed to assist you in understanding what might be included in each relevant section and what that means for agricultural lenders, investors, appraisers, and other professionals in the ag community. You will be prepared to review GSPs relevant to your portfolio or your client’s properties.

The Introduction and Plan Area

The beginning of the GSP should include a discussion of the legal authority and cost associated with implementing a GSP. The cost section may be important to review because it could signal one-time or recurring fees related to the creation and implementation of the GSP. Some GSAs will also discuss grant funding received for technical assistance from the Department of Water Resources (DWR).

Another important part of the introduction of the GSP should include is how the GSA is organized. GSAs may be part of a group of GSAs or contain sub-areas within the GSA boundaries called Management Areas that may have different fees, restrictions, or benefits that are discussed later in the GSP.

The Plan Area and Basin Setting are designed as an overview of the important geographic and hydrological elements of a basin. The Plan Area is focused on the political boundaries and the Basin Setting on the hydrologic data.

Plan Area

The Plan Area section of the GSP is important for agricultural community members primarily because it discusses further the multiple political jurisdictions that may exist within a GSA, the area the GSP covers, and current land use designations, such as land designated for agriculture.

Example of a Description of a Plan Area from Madera Subbasin Draft GSP.
Example of a Description of a Plan Area from Madera Subbasin Draft GSP.


Understanding the plan area includes whether or not a property is covered under a groundwater adjudication. A groundwater adjudication is a court supervised settlement for all stakeholders with in the adjudicated area, a specific basin, which sets out the rules the parties to the settlement agree to. If a property is within an adjudicated basin, the property owner should refer to the settlement documents and contact the appointed watermaster regarding groundwater rules, which may be different than those contained in the GSP.

Other Jurisdictions

GSAs do not exist in a political vacuum. There are still multiple other government agencies with various mandates and jurisdictional boundaries within the GSP Plan Area.

Image of a map Showing Chowchilla Water District GSA Crossing County Lines.
Showing Chowchilla Water District GSA Crossing County Lines

Federal, State, County, municipal and special district boundaries are discussed as part of the Plan Area. Putting the GSP in context of other governmental regulations assists stakeholders in understanding their responsibilities. For example, water quality regulations come from federal, state, and regional governmental entities. However, a GSP must also address impacts to water quality within the framework of existing law.

Water Plans and Monitoring

Another important Plan Area topic is a description of water monitoring. A GSP should list regional water plans, Agricultural Water Management Plans, Urban Water Management Plans, and other water plans that are part of the Plan Area. Additionally, monitoring programs implemented by federal, state, and local entities belong in this section. Understanding the monitoring programs already in existence provides added context for potential additional groundwater monitoring requirements as part of the GSP.

Example of a Water Monitoring Plan Section from Madera Subbasin Draft GSP
Example of a Water Monitoring Plan Section from Madera Subbasin Draft GSP.

Conjunctive Use Programs

If a water district or other governmental agency participates or administers a conjunctive use program, that should be included in the Plan Area portion of the GSP. Conjunctive use policies encourage the use of surface water when available to reduce groundwater pumping and increase groundwater recharge. This is essential information when analyzing how use of surface water to support basin health through groundwater recharge programs. Conjunctive use programs may also identify use of recycled wastewater and stormwater.

Land Use

Land use in the Plan Area looks at existing general plans and other land use plans that list crops, agricultural land acreages, urban acreages, and other land use statistics. Understanding the typical types of crops and how much of a basin’s overlying land is dedicated to agricultural use can assist in estimating impacts to the community and key stakeholders. For example, if a basin is made up of primarily agricultural land and that land is largely permanent crops, the impacts of reduced groundwater pumping may be more severe than in a more urban, less permanent cropped basin. Additionally, this section would cover permitting processes, such as well permits, that agencies other than the GSA have authority over.


The information included in the GSP Introduction and Plan Area is valuable to building a strategy around water risk. AQUAOSO provides much of the information in the GSPs and continues to update and add more value as we work with our partners in the agricultural community. We will continue with this weekly series by walking through the Basin Setting section of the GSP in our next post. Until then, happy researching!

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