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February 24, 2016  |  Written by Brenda C. Bass

Department of Water Resources Releases Draft Emergency Regulations for Groundwater Sustainability Plans

On February 18, 2016, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) released its draft emergency regulations for Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs).  The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA) requires DWR to adopt such emergency regulations by June 1, 2016.  These draft regulations list the required components of GSPs and inter-Groundwater Sustainability Agency coordination agreements.  Additionally, these draft regulations outline the methods and standards by which DWR will evaluate GSPs, alternatives, coordination agreements, and other information that DWR needs in order to determine whether a GSP is adequate.

The draft regulations set forth the required elements of a GSP, which include descriptions of both the Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) and the basin the plan intends to cover.  The key elements of a GSP are as follows:

  • The GSP must contain a hydrogeologic conceptual model of the basin, a description of the basin’s current and historical condition, and a water budget that considers the water supply and demand in the basin—both natural and human.
  • A GSP may create management areas within the basin, if the GSA finds that one or more areas differ significantly at “critical parameters.” Management areas afford flexibility in that the GSP can place different minimum thresholds or measureable objectives in that area, as long as the basin as a whole will achieve its sustainability goal in twenty years.
  • A GSP will also set sustainable management criteria, including establishing minimum thresholds and measureable objectives that are tied to “critical parameters.” These parameters are (1) chronic lowering of groundwater levels, (2) reduction of groundwater storage, (3) seawater intrusion, (4) degraded water quality, (5) land subsidence, and (6) interconnected surface water depletion.  Both minimum thresholds and measureable objectives are numeric values, but measureable objectives must be set above the minimum threshold and have interim milestones set every five years such that the objective can be attained in twenty years.
  • The draft regulations further require that GSPs contain information on the monitoring network the GSA will implement to collect data and determine compliance with the set minimum thresholds and measureable objectives. GSPs must also contain descriptions of project and management actions that the GSA will use to ensure objectives are achieved.

According to the draft regulations, when a GSA has adopted a GSP, it will submit the GSP to DWR for evaluation.  After a 60-day public comment period, DWR will evaluate the GSP and determine whether the plan is adequate.  Adequate plans comply with the regulations, are supported by quality evidence and information, have properly considered the beneficial uses and users of groundwater, will not adversely affect other GSA’s ability to implement their own GSPs or attain their goals, and will not impair the right to safe, clean, and affordable water for human consumption.  GSAs must also submit annual reports every year following plan adoption that include information on groundwater elevation, extraction, total water use by water sector and water source type, and surface water supply for groundwater recharge.  At least every five years, GSAs will evaluate the progress of their GSP.

DWR has scheduled a fairly extensive public review process for the draft GSP regulations.  DWR will host three public meetings and a webcast to receive comments.  These meetings have been tentatively scheduled for March 21-25, 2016.  The precise dates, times, and locations are forthcoming.  Written comments are due to DWR on March 25, 2016.

For more information on the draft GSP regulations, please contact Brenda Bass at

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