The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September 2014 and can be defined as:
…the avoidance of ‘significant and unreasonable’ levels of six impacts: (1) lowering of groundwater levels, (2) reduction in groundwater storage, (3) seawater intrusion, (4) water quality degradation, (5) land subsidence and (6) impacts on beneficial uses of interconnected surface waters.
The purpose of SGMA is to put California on a path to sustainably manage the state’s water usage. During dry years, the state’s overdraft can range between 3 and 7 million acre-feet. Some of that water is re-charged during wet years, but many of the basins that fall under the state’s top agriculture producing regions tend to see a continuous fall in their water tables.
Based on a combination of factors, 127 of the state’s 515 groundwater basins are considered to be high or medium priority. 27 of those 127 basins are adjudicated (or under court order to limit overdraft). The Department of Water Resources facilitates and evaluates SGMA, meanwhile the State Water Resources Control Board enforces (https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/).
The Act also mandated creation of local groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs). These GSAs are responsible for complying with SGMA instructions. So far, 266 GSAs have been formed in 378 areas in 141 basins. GSAs are required to provide management plans for high and medium priority basins.
The GSAs have the unenviable task of unifying and managing a set of water users, many of whom have different objectives. The law also requires medium- and high-priority groundwater basins in a state of critical overdraft to adopt a groundwater sustainability plan…
As we all know, farmers are resilient; they roll with the punches. As all farms throughout the state face the same problem of lacking water, farmers in different areas are trying different strategies to manage this issue. Some buy crop insurance, fallow the land, dig wells, purchase water, or plant cover crop. However, most farmers can agree that the regulations that come with managing water are often more complicated than actually mitigating the lack of water.
For those of us who work directly on-farm, we fully understand the complications of agencies penning regulation that make sense on paper, but don’t necessarily make sense on the ground. Farmers cannot feed the world without water, and they do see themselves as “important participants in the sustainable management of water.” Their push back is not against groundwater management, as many support infrastructure solutions to groundwater management. Their push back comes from lack of common sense and local relevance in these statewide agency created solutions. Farmers want to have a say; they want to be listened to. The State Water Boards, SGMA, farmers – they all have the same goal, but farmers don’t feel as though they have an equal voice.
If you want to learn more about SGMA, UCANR released the January-March 2018 California Agriculture edition as a Special Issue specifically focused on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (summarized above). You can download the full issue here.
Santa Maria falls under the State Water Resources Control Board Central Coast Region 3. For more information on our local water resources, click here.