Legislature Passes Historic Legislation Fundamentally Changing California Groundwater Law


California’s depleted groundwater basins will not go unmanaged any longer. That’s the directive of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“Act”), passed late Friday, August 29 by the California Legislature, which Governor Brown is expected to sign. For at-risk basins, the Act requires the designation of a “groundwater sustainability agency” and adoption of a “groundwater sustainability plan” within roughly five to seven years. The plan must set the basin on a course toward “sustainable management” to eliminate adverse groundwater conditions specified as “undesirable results” by roughly 2040. If a local agency is not designated as a groundwater sustainability agency, or if a compliant groundwater sustainability plan is not prepared within designated time frames, the State Water Resources Control Board (”SWRCB”) may intervene and adopt and enforce its own plan for the basin.

Applicable Basins -

The Act applies to basins or subbasins that are to be designated by the California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) as “medium-” or “high-priority” basins. DWR will use its Bulletin 118 to delineate basins. Under the Act, DWR must rank each of the basins or subbasins identified in Bulletin 118 as either a very low-, low-, medium-, or high-priority basin based on the threat to the basin’s integrity. The Act does not apply to adjudicated groundwater basins that are managed by the courts, or to basins deemed by DWR to be low or very low priority. Present AB 3030 groundwater management plans (Water Code Sections 10750 et seq.) in medium- and high-priority basins must be replaced or augmented to comply with the requirements for a groundwater sustainability plan under the Act.

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