California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act: SB1168, SB1319 and AB1739

Approved by Governor Jerry Brown on September 16, 2014, the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act implements new groundwater rules for California. Effective as of January 1, 2015, the three-bill package will create local agencies to oversee groundwater extraction, changing the state’s historic practice of allowing landowners to extract any water that lies beneath their land.

The new laws target areas where groundwater basins are being depleted faster than they are being replenished to be sustainable by 2040. The Act requires the formation of new local groundwater sustainability agencies responsible for establishing long-term locally-based groundwater management plans, and ultimately protecting groundwater quality within their jurisdictions. It gives local land planners two years to create a groundwater sustainability agency, which in turn has up to five years to develop a plan for managing wells and pumping. It also allows for water metering and fines to monitor and enforce restrictions.

The state Water Resources Control Board ultimately will step in and develop plans for communities that fail to abide by these rules, but the Act promotes local responsibility and decision-making.  

The goal of regulation will be to achieve “sustainability” for the groundwater basin or sub-basin. Broad parameters for that goal are included in the legislation, but it will be defined more precisely by the local agencies based on local circumstances. Generally, “sustainability” means bringing the basin or sub-basin into balance by eliminating the overdraft of water.

Groundwater makes up nearly 60 percent of California's water use during dry years - yet it is not monitored and managed the same way as water from reservoirs and rivers. Unlike other states that treat groundwater as a shared resource, California property owners have been entitled to tap water beneath their land since settling in the 1850’s. 

Over the past few decades, increased urban demands, shifts to more water intensive crops, and significant new environmental restrictions on the availability of surface water have resulted in much greater groundwater use, particularly in the Central Valley. The result has been chronic overdraft and a dramatic increase in subsidence (the permanent loss of below ground storage capacity) in many basins and sub-basins. The existing system has been said to put farmers in a position to work against each other in a race to dig the deepest wells, ultimately resulting in depleted aquifers.


Publication Date: September 16, 2014

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