Last Friday, the California Legislature passed three bills that provide for the regulation of groundwater for the first time in the state’s history. Once signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the bills—currently known as AB 1739 (Dickinson), SB 1168 (Pavley), and SB 1319 (Pavley)—will collectively constitute the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (the “Act”). The Act will establish as state policy that California’s groundwater resources are to be “managed sustainably for long-term reliability and multiple economic, social and environmental benefits for current and future beneficial uses.” To effectuate this policy, the Act creates a framework for sustainable groundwater management that will be implemented at the local or regional level, but provides the state authority to act as a backstop.
Under the Act, the Department of Water Resources (the “Department”) must categorize each groundwater basin as high-, medium-, low- or very low-priority by January 1, 2015. According to the Department’s website, there are currently 431 groundwater basins delineated within California. By June 1, 2016, the Department must adopt regulations for identifying the components of groundwater sustainability plans and for evaluating those plans and their implementation.
Local and regional agencies with authority over “high-priority” or “medium-priority” basins will be required to develop and implement groundwater sustainability plans, or, in the alternative, demonstrate existing sustainable management pursuant to an adjudicated action. High- or medium-priority basins that are “subject to critical conditions of overdraft” must be managed under groundwater sustainability plans by January 1, 2020, with all remaining high- or medium-priority basins subject to sustainability plans by January 1, 2022. If a local or regional agency fails to adopt an adequate groundwater sustainability plan for a specified basin, the California State Water Resources Control Board will have the authority to develop an interim plan until the local or regional agency is prepared to assume management of the basin.
Among other provisions, the Act will also authorize groundwater sustainability agencies to impose fees to fund costs of their sustainability programs; require registration of groundwater extraction facilities and regulate extractions therefrom; and obtain inspection warrants and conduct inspections of facilities to determine compliance with a management plan.
The implications of this groundbreaking legislation, which Gov. Brown is expected to sign into law, will be far-reaching for California’s groundwater users.
- Estie Kus, Samir Abdelnour, Dave Metres
For more information, contact Dave Metres at [email protected] or (415) 228-5400.
Historic Groundwater Sustainability Bills Head To CA Governor
September 5, 2014 / Estie Kus, Samir Abdelnour, and Dave Metres