Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Overview


In September of 2014, the California Legislature enacted comprehensive legislation aimed at strengthening local control and management of groundwater basins throughout the state. Known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), the legislation provides a framework for sustainable management of groundwater supplies by local authorities, with a limited role for state intervention when necessary to protect the resource.

For the first time in California, groundwater will have to be managed to protect the long-term reliability of the resource.

SGMA technically applies to all 515 groundwater basins and subbasins in California, but it is only the 127 high- and medium-priority basins that are required to develop groundwater sustainability plans. The Upper Ventura River Groundwater Basin has been ranked a medium-priority basin.

Key Implementation Dates

SGMA lays out a process and a timeline for local authorities to achieve sustainable management of groundwater basins.

  • • June 30, 2017: Local groundwater sustainability agencies formed.
  • • January 31, 2020: Groundwater sustainability plans adopted for critically overdrafted basins.
  • • January 31, 2022: Groundwater sustainability plans adopted for high- and medium-priority basins not currently in overdraft. (The Upper Ventura River Basin is a medium-priority basin.)
  • • 20 years after adoption: All high- and medium-priority groundwater basins must fully implement their sustainability plans and achieve the sustainability goal.

Tools and Authorities

SGMA provides local GSAs with the tools and authority to:

  • • Require registration of groundwater wells
  • • Manage extractions
  • • Assess fees to implement groundwater management plans
  • • Request revisions of basin boundaries

Creation of Groundwater Sustainability Plans

Groundwater sustainability plans must outline measurable objectives and interim milestones to achieve the sustainability goal for the basin within a 20-year time frame. Plans need to include a physical description of the basin, including groundwater levels, groundwater quality, subsidence, and groundwater-surface water interaction; data on historical and projected water demands and supplies; and monitoring and management provisions.

In addition, plans must consider:

• Integration with local county and city general plans;

• Whether or not the hydrologic connection between adjacent basins affects the ability of those basins to reach sustainable groundwater management; and

• The interests of all beneficial uses and users of groundwater, including overlying property owners, municipal well owners, public water systems, local land use agencies, environmental users, surface water users, the federal government, Native American tribes in California, disadvantaged communities, and listed monitoring entities.

Definition of Sustainability

“Sustainability” in SGMA is defined as:

The management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results.

“Undesirable results” is defined as:

One or more of the following effects caused by groundwater conditions occurring throughout the basin:

  1. Chronic lowering of groundwater levels indicating a significant and unreasonable depletion of supply if continued over the planning and implementation horizon. Overdraft during a period of drought is not sufficient to establish a chronic lowering of groundwater levels if extractions and recharge are managed as necessary to ensure that reductions in groundwater levels or storage during a period of drought are offset by increases in groundwater levels or storage during other periods.
  2. Significant and unreasonable reduction of groundwater storage.
  3. Significant and unreasonable seawater intrusion.
  4. Significant and unreasonable degraded water quality, including the migration of contaminant plumes that impair water supplies.
  5. Significant and unreasonable land subsidence that substantially interferes with surface land uses.
  6. Depletions of interconnected surface water that have significant and unreasonable adverse impacts on beneficial uses of the surface water.
“The groundwater sustainability agency shall consider the interests of all beneficial uses and users of groundwater, as well as those responsible for implementing groundwater sustainability plans.”
Section 10723.2 of SGMA