Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)

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A organizational summary, 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 bill comprising the SGMA intend to attain sustainable groundwater management in California by 2042 . [1] Proosition 1, a bond for many different water projetcs in California, supports GSAs manage groundwater with funding of $100 million. [2]


The stated mission of the SGMA is: "management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results.” The way that it approaches this goal is by requiring government and water agencies to halt overdraft of high and medium priority basins 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.

Such 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 thinking behind the design of the 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 Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (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 [2][4]

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

The main previsions of the bill includes:

  • 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


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).[5]

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.[6]

AB 1739 also requires DWR to organize and 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".[7]

SB 1319

Approved by Governor Jerry Brown on September 16, 2014, Senator Pavley's SB 1319 authorized local agencies to implement a groundwater plan. Management of groundwater prior to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act 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. If an agency was seeking funds from the Department of Water Resources for a project regarding groundwater or groundwater quality, they too have to abide to specific requirements such as preparing and implementing a groundwater management plan.[8] Managing groundwater is a challenging task, one that has been addressed by the SGMA. Groundwater is out of sight which makes it difficult to monitor, especially when the groundwater basins boundaries reach across multiple agencies and users. 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.[9] Groundwater is difficult to manage due to it being unseen and not neatly aligned with the jurisdiction of these set basin boundaries. The SGMA calls for the GSAs to communicate and work with the overlapping groundwater uses and allow for a governance of the basin through different means. These can include a memorandum of agreement (unofficial and often made outside the courts) between the multiple parties or through a legal joint agreement. By these agreements the groundwater basin can be regulated by multiple GSAs or just by one agency.

SB 1168

The California Constitution and SB 1168 require that any use of the groundwater be both reasonable and beneficial.[10] California has a history of complex water rights, in which the Reasonable and Beneficial Use Doctrine is a key tenet. The doctrine was originally developed for riparian landowners and surface water management, but SB 1168 applied it to the context of groundwater and the SGMA, stating that any use of groundwater has to be sustainably managed for long-term reliability and multiple economic, social, and environmental benefits for future uses.[10]

Specifically, SB 1168 gives GSAs the authority to:

  • Require registration from a groundwater extraction facility
  • Require that a groundwater extraction facility be measured by a water-measuring device and to regulate the extraction based off the measurements
  • Conduct inspections and obtain warrants

It requires the Department of Water Resources to:

  • Investigate the California's groundwater basins every five years and report its findings to the California State Legislature
  • Look at the monitoring of groundwater elevations in each basin and prioritize them based on adverse effects to the local habitats and streamflows
File:Groundwater monitoring, Coronado National Memorial (6540935393).jpg
An Electronic "Barologger" data-logger is being used to measure the depth to groundwater in this well. This is one form of groundwater monitoring that SB 1168 requires extraction facilities to implement regularly.

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.[11]

Central Coast Context

Example Work / Projects

Related links


  1. 1.0 1.1
  4. [1]
  6. Template:Cite web
  7. Template:Cite web
  8. Template:Cite web
  9. Template:Cite web
  10. 10.0 10.1 Template:Cite web
  11. Template:Cite web


This page may contain student work completed as part of assigned coursework. It may not be accurate. It does not necessary reflect the opinion or policy of CSUMB, its staff, or students.