Building Capacity for Regional Sustainability with SGMA
CA Dept. of Water Resources
While California has vast infrastructure to store winter flows and deliver water hundreds of miles to where it is needed, the majority of water infrastructure and related investment is at the local and regional level. Over the past decade, the State has provided technical services and over $990 million in financial assistance, matched over 4:1 by local agencies, to implement more than 700 regional multi-benefit projects to improve water sustainability in regions across the State.The prolonged drought, reduction of water supply due to reduced rainfall and snowpack, and compliance with various biological opinions, coupled with increases in permanent crops and increases in urban population, have all taken a toll on regional water supply reliability and sustainability. In many areas, imbalance between water availability and demand has increased groundwater pumping and resulted in overdrafting of groundwater basins. This, in turn, has caused drinking and agricultural water wells to go dry and alarming evidence of subsidence, especially in California’s Central Valley.The most significant piece of legislation was the State’s passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in 2014. For the first time in history, the State must manage groundwater use in a sustainable manner. The landmark law requires water and land use agencies to come together in governance, and develop plans to manage groundwater – in the context of an overall regional water balance – sustainably. The State will provide financial incentives, technical tools, and enforcement to ensure implementation of the legislation, but the key to success lies with the local agencies and their ability to balance regional supply and demand in a more sustainable fashion.The Governor’s 2014 Action Plan has been instrumental in focusing the State’s water leaders on a common set of goals and priority actions, and it has leveraged general obligation bond revenues with existing agency budgets and other funding sources. But, full implementation of the Action Plan, and related actions like SGMA to improve water sustainability, will require investments above the current baseline budgets of State, federal, tribal, and local governments. Multiple and more stable, funding sources will be needed. A key challenge is overcoming regulatory hurdles, including surface water rights and federal and State environmental regulations. Here again, close cooperation between federal, State and local stakeholders will be required for success.