The Sustainable Management Criteria section of a GSP is designed to utilize the data provided in the Plan Area and Basin Setting sections to characterize what the undesirable results are for the basin, measures used to ensure the basin operates within its sustainable yield, and how the GSA plans to reach the sustainability goal in 20 years.

This guide includes information that is designed to assist you in understanding what might be included in the Sustainable Management Criteria section and what that means for agricultural lenders, investors, appraisers, and other professionals in the ag community.


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Sustainability Goals and Sustainability Indicators


Sustainability goals are tied to sustainability indicators. There are six sustainability indicators that become undesirable results if there are significant and unreasonable impacts to the sustainability indicator.

  • Chronic lowering of groundwater levels indicating a significant unreasonable depletion of supply if continued over the planning implementation horizon.
  • Significant and unreasonable reduction of groundwater storage
  • Significant and unreasonable seawater intrusion
  • Significant and unreasonable degraded water quality, including the migration of contaminant plumes that impair water supplies
  • Significant and unreasonable land subsidence that substantially interferes with surface land uses
  • Depletions of interconnected surface water that have significant and unreasonable adverse impacts on beneficial uses of the surface water


These indicators are specific to a point, but it is up to the GSP to further define how to measure and determine the significance and unreasonableness. The quantitative indicators will inform important decisions impacting agriculture like groundwater pumping restrictions and pesticide usage. Also of interest are milestones that are measured in increments of 5, 10, 15, and 20 years allowing for a baseline to make adjustments to GSA pumping restrictions and other regulations.

Minimum Thresholds and Metrics

Sustainability Indicators Metrics Required by SGMA*
Lowered Groundwater Levels Groundwater Elevation
Reduction of Storage Total Volume
Seawater Intrusion Chloride Concentration Isocontour
Degraded Water Quality Migrations of Plumes, Number of Supply
Wells, Volume, Location of Isocontour
Land Subsidence Rate and Extent of Land Subsidence
Surface Water Depletion Volume or Rate of Surface Water

*Groundwater may be used as a proxy as discussed late in this article


Important metrics to review include: hydrographs, subsidence areas, and supply well information. Wells will typically be chosen to monitor for a broader area and are representative of that area. What is one of the more interesting measurements to note is groundwater elevation.


“Groundwater elevation may be used as a proxy for any of the minimum thresholds for the sustainability indicators if the GSP demonstrates a correlation between groundwater levels and any of the other metrics.” (see 23 CCR §§ 354.30(d), 354.36(b))


In addition to the minimum thresholds for the GSA, the GSP requires observance of adjacent GSAs’ minimum thresholds due to the natural movement of water, and potential contaminants, from one GSA service area to another. Understanding where your organization’s portfolio or client’s land is in relation to neighboring GSAs can assist in assessing whether a neighboring GSA’s GSP creates a negative impact.

AQUAOSO tracks groundwater elevation in our research tool to assist in understanding the health of a groundwater basin and the specific parcel overlying that basin.

Show Groundwater on a Map 



AQUAOSO Research Tool Showing Groundwater Depth

Undesirable Results

An “undesirable result” occurs when there is a significant and unreasonable condition measured by any of the six sustainability indicators explained in the above section. However, one exceedance at one monitoring well is not sufficient to be an undesirable result. Also, undesirable results may differ depending on the management area or region of a GSA. It is important to identify where exactly in the GSA a portfolio or single property is located to understand the criteria for undesirable results.

Remember, remedying the undesirable result is a marathon, not a race. GSAs have 20 years to correct the undesirable result. While there are annual reporting requirements and milestones every 5 years, there is an expectation of SGMA regulations that this process will take some time. Keeping an eye on changes to the GSP and the annual reports will provide an understanding of the general direction of the GSA and how likely an increase or decrease in groundwater pumping regulation will impact your organization.



The following are key takeaways for understanding GSP Sustainable Management Criteria and Metrics:

  • There are 6 indicators for determining whether a basin has reached sustainability.
  • There are various metrics to measure the 6 indicators, of which groundwater levels may be used as a proxy as long as it is correlated with measurement of the indicator.
  • Exceedance of an indicator creates an undesirable result.
  • Undesirable results must be corrected at the end of the 20 year period that the GSP covers.
  • Understanding how the metrics and indicators impact your organization is critical.


Risk Indicator Relationships


Understanding relationships between different risk indicators becomes difficult with the introduction of more indicators and variables. However, if you create a system that assists you in understanding the relationships and displays significant connections, you are better positioned to make use of the data. AQUAOSO created a software platform that assists with the complex task of understanding water risk. 

Making connections requires:

  • Data
  • Analysis
  • Communication

The tricky part about making these connections is obtaining enough data to generate the above figures and give a complete picture of a water risk scenario. Collecting data takes time and persistence. For example, to produce charts on a real parcel of land requires obtaining data on:

  • Parcel boundaries
  • Ownership
  • Crops within those boundaries
  • Water district historical and current water delivery records
  • Groundwater pumping information

Not only does each piece of information reside in a different place, but it is also often trapped in challenging-to-use formats for proper analysis. AQUAOSO knows because we already did this and continue to update our database daily.

The analysis on one property using excel spreadsheets and making phone calls that may or may not be returned promptly was the typical method in gathering water data. Such 20th Century methods were necessary because technology was not cheap enough to deploy efficient and affordable solutions. Additionally, analysis used to require an expensive expert, to assist with understanding any of the data collected and often charge a high price for that analysis.

While there are times when experts are certainly needed, reviewing multiple properties in a portfolio for water risk indicators or setting a strategic plan for water risk does not require in-depth human analysis. We built a system that saves time for employees and saves money for any operation that is serious about water risk. Using advanced technologies like geospatial analysis and machine learning allows AQUAOSO to analyze data and make necessary connections right from your computer.

Advanced technology is great, but most people are not technological wizards or water experts. You need to be able to understand the complex analysis enough to communicate actionable recommendations for your organization and community.

AQUAOSO provides reports that summarize the necessary analysis for a property resulting in a full picture of water risk for an agricultural parcel, set of parcels, or a comprehensive portfolio of properties spread throughout California. The best part is that it takes minutes instead of days and everyone can be on the same page, literally.


Next Steps


The GSPs are the tip of the groundwater data iceberg as more public information is available on level, quality, and availability of groundwater. This data continues to grow constantly. It is a simple fact that gathering and keeping track of the data is not an easy task. Making sense of it and applying that to actionable steps for your organization is an even more challenging one. In order to comply with the sustainability restrictions of SGMA, however, these steps must be made.

The AQUAOSO Water Security Platform was built with SGMA in mind.

You can research and map by parcel or portfolio of parcels and get a clear picture of your water risk. Be prepared.

Start by utilizing our free water map. Learn can also about the regions we serve beyond California and take action with your new-found knowledge by forming the plans and partnerships needed. You can get ahead of SGMA and we can help. Get a demo or talk to a water expert today!


Put trended water and land data to work for you.

Assessing water risk is made easy through AQUAOSO’s flexible software modules. We support the operating environment of the modern agricultural economy.

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