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January 17, 2017  |  Written by Lauren D. Bernadett

Recent Department of Water Resources Actions Related to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

Before the end of 2016, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) issued two publications that impact the long-term implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).  SGMA is significant legislation passed in 2014 that aims to establish sustainable groundwater management through groundwater sustainability agencies (GSA) and groundwater sustainability plans (GSP).

SGMA established several major deadlines for 2017.  By January 1, 2017, agencies choosing to meet their basin sustainability objectives through means other than the GSAs and GSPs were required to submit their alternative plans to DWR.  By the same date, DWR was required to publish best management practices for sustainable groundwater management.  DWR defines best management practices as “a practice, or combination of practices, that are designed to achieve sustainable groundwater management and have been determined to be technologically and economically effective, practicable, and based on best available science.”  Best management practices are intended to help guide GSAs in the development of GSPs.

DWR separated best management practices for sustainable groundwater management into five categories:  monitoring protocols, standards, and sites; monitoring networks and identification of data gaps; hydrogeological conceptual model; water budget; and modeling.  Each category has a separate document that clarifies the objectives, uses, and limitations of the category’s best management practices.  DWR is still in the process of publishing guidance documents that address discrete topics unique to SGMA.

DWR also issued an interim update to Bulletin 118, the State’s primary reference for information on groundwater characteristics and management.  The interim update includes the first update on groundwater basins subject to critical conditions of overdraft since 1980, and approved modifications to basin boundaries.  These processes and decisions were long-term projects completed in 2016 and memorialized in the interim update.  The interim update also includes a notification that modifications to basin prioritization are still underway and will be completed in 2017.  Bulletin 118 is scheduled to be fully updated in 2020.

The next major deadline under SGMA is June 30, 2017, the date by which local agencies in each high- or medium-priority groundwater basin must form one or more GSAs to cover the entire basin.  If local agencies fail to cover the entire basin and no alternative plan has been approved, the State Water Resources Control Board may initiate the process to designate the basin as probationary.

For more information please contact Lauren D. Bernadett at 916-446-7979 or by email at

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