Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)

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An environmental topic, summarized by the ENVS 560/L Watershed Systems class at CSUMB.


The SGMA was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 18, 2014. It is a three-bill package made up by AB 1739 (Dickinson), SB 1168 (Pavley), and SB 1319 (Pavley). These bills comprising the SGMA intend to attain sustainable groundwater management in California by 2042.[1] Proposition 1, a bond for many different water projects in California, funds Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) management of groundwater with $100 million.[2]


The stated mission of SGMA is: "management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results.” It approaches this goal by requiring government and water agencies to halt overdraft of basins designated as medium or high priority, and bring these basins into balanced levels of pumping and recharge. These basins should reach sustainability within 20 years of the implementation of a sustainability plan.

Goals to avoid undesirable results in groundwater basins are:

  • Establish minimum standards for sustainable groundwater management
  • Provide local groundwater agencies with authority and financial assistance
  • Avoid or minimize subsidence
  • Improve data collection and understanding of groundwater basins
  • Increase groundwater storage and remove impediments to recharge
  • Minimize state intervention on local water governing agencies
  • Provide a more cost-efficient way to adjudicate water rights while ensuring due process and delays [3]

The design of SGMA is to leave management of groundwater to locally organized agencies and boards. To accomplish this goal the Department of Water Resources (DWR) will provide ongoing support through guidance and financial and technical assistance. The SGMA designates local agencies to form GSAs to manage basins sustainably and requires GSAs to adopt a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) in crucial groundwater basins.[1]

Governance / Authority

Map of aquifers in California categorized by priority. Photo from [3][4]

SGMA was passed by the California state legislature and signed by Governor Brown into state law.

The main previsions of the bill include:

  • Requiring the formation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs)
  • Mandating the development and implementation of Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) for high- and medium-priority groundwater basins
  • Authorizing management tools for local agencies, including the ability to curtail pumping and to assess fees
  • Giving intervention authority to the State Water Resources Control Board if certain provisions are not met
  • Defining time frames for accomplishing goals[5]


The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) consists of three bills. It was primarily authored by California State Assembly member Roger Dickinson (AB 1739) and Senator Fran Pavley (SB 1319 and SB 1168).[6]

AB 1739

AB 1739 gives the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) or a groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) the authority to establish fees (detailed in SB 1168) and offer support to "entities that extract or use groundwater to promote water conservation and protect groundwater resources". GSAs are locally controlled organizations in California's high- and medium-priority groundwater basins and are responsible for preparing a groundwater sustainability plan (GSP), implementing SGMA, and coordinating with neighbors.[7]

AB 1739 also requires DWR to publish an online report with estimates of groundwater replenishment and best practices. GSAs are required to submit a groundwater sustainability plan (GSP) to the DWR for review. DWR must determine regulations to evaluate, implement, and coordinate GSPs based on conditions of "hydrology, water demand, regulatory restrictions that affect the availability of surface water, and unreliability of, or reductions in, surface water deliveries to the agency or water users in the basin, and impact of those conditions on achieving sustainability and shall include the historic average reliability and deliveries of surface water to the agency or water users in the basin".[8]

SB 1319

SB 1319 authorized local agencies to implement a groundwater plan. Management of groundwater prior to the SGMA was unregulated and voluntary for the various agencies using groundwater ranging from special districts under authority granted from the state, city, and county ordinances and court adjudicated basins. Senate bill 1319 requires for the groundwater management plans to follow specific and include components that the state deems as sustainable for the specific groundwater basin and aligns with the SGMA timeline. [9] Manageing groundwater is a challenging task as it is not visible and involves multiple actors in overlapping boundaries. Pumping unregulated and mismanaged groundwater can lead to a "tragedy of the commons", with each user maximizing the resource for their own gain with little responsibility for the depleting aquifer. The SGMA set basin boundaries based on a 2003 Department of Water Resources report. The report broke it down into there being 431 current groundwater basins in California that have been delineated, of these basins 24 are subdivided into 108 basins to total 515 basins in all. The report based these boundaries off the alluvial sediments found using geographic maps.[10]

SB 1168

SB 1168 enacts the core of SGMA, declaring the list of groundwater basins to be assessed, directing the DWR to prioritize the basins by January 31, 2015, and creating the ability for local agencies to create Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs). It also establishes findings on California's reliance on groundwater, the state's interest in managing groundwater for sustainable use, and the doctrine that groundwater is best managed on a local or regional level. The Specified groundwater basins are defined in DWR bulletin No. 118, which was updated in 2016 to contain the [11]

SB 13 amendments

Since the collection of bills that make up SGMA were complex, some minor changes were made in SB 13 pertaining to GSA formation. Prior to SB 13, existing law required that each high- and medium-priority groundwater basins be managed after implementing a groundwater sustainability plan and subjected reporting requirements to the State Water Resources Control Board. SB 13 changed DWR's role with respect to reviewing, posting, and tracking GSA formation notices. Changes include notifying reviews, GSA boundaries which overlap, and service area boundaries.[12]


Enforcement of SGMA is conducted jointly by DWR and SWRCB. DWR reviews GSA formation and submitted GSPs. GSAs with incomplete GSPs will be given the opportunity to update their plan to DWR requirements, but if they do not, intervention by the SWRCB may occur. This intervention can also be triggered by a DWR decision that a GSA is not implementing their own GSP quickly enough, or if the required 5-year re-evaluation cycle is not completed effectively. [13] In the event of this intervention, local groundwater users must begin reporting their use to SWRCB, and an interim plan can be created by SWRCB containing corrective actions, a timeline, and a monitoring plan to insure compliance.[14][15]


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  7. [[2]]



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