The California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was enacted by the California legislature in late 2014 and it went into effect on January 1, 2015. It provides for a legal framework to reasonably regulate production of groundwater in California for the first time in State history (surface water has been regulated since 1914). SGMA generally gives local agencies the authority necessary to physically manage groundwater in designated basins or subbasins throughout the State in a sustainable manner over a defined period of time (a 20-40 year horizon). It specifically provides for creation of governing Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) to write and implement Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) to accomplish measurable goals and prevent unreasonable physical harm to the basin or the water resource.
Landowners in California are entitled to pump and use a reasonable amount of groundwater from a basin underlying their land to put it to a beneficial, non-wasteful use. When there is insufficient water to meet the demands of landowners, they are expected to reduce their use to bring extractions into the “safe yield” of the basin to prevent overdraft. Safe yield is the rate at which groundwater can be withdrawn without causing long-term decline of water levels or other undesirable effects such as subsidence.
The SGMA is designed to address issues related to both overdraft and safe yield, but does not change existing groundwater rights. Specifically, Water Code section 10720.5(b) says that nothing in the legislation “determines or alters surface water rights or groundwater rights under common law or any provisions of law that determines or grants surface water rights.”
Learn all there is to know about the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and download this free handbook provided by the Water Education Foundation.