California Groundwater Update: Public Comments Due For Basin Boundary Regulations

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As one of many implementation steps under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA” codified as Water Code §§ 10720 et seq.), basin boundary regulations were released recently by the California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”), with a public comment deadline set for Friday, September 4. DWR is holding public meetings this week to solicit public comments (see, http://www.water.ca.gov/.) The regulations, if approved later this year by the California Water Commission (“CWC”), would take effect on January 1, 2016 to allow local agencies to request changes to existing groundwater basin (or subbasin) boundaries identified in DWR Bulletin 118.

By way of brief background, SGMA is designed to establish sustainable groundwater management and specifically intended for local agencies to manage groundwater by forming a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (“GSA”) by June 30, 2017. A GSA would then need to form a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (“GSP”) by January 31, 2020 for basins in “critical overdraft,” and by January 31, 2022 for “medium- and high-priority” basins not deemed by DWR to be in critical overdraft.

The draft regulations are designed to increase the ability of local agencies to implement SGMA, which is much needed due to local dynamics varying significantly throughout the state such that a “one size fits all” approach does not fit SGMA. CWC approval of basin boundary regulations thus is very likely.

Under the draft regulations, two modification types exist: scientific and jurisdictional. Scientific changes involve preparation of a technical study related to a basin’s hydrogeological characteristics and conditions, while jurisdictional changes seek to expand or contract existing basin boundaries. The draft regulations contain specific criteria DWR will use to analyze a basin boundary change request.

The lack of alignment of GSA boundaries and basin boundaries – whether based on current or modified basin boundaries – present several implications that should be considered by public and private stakeholders. After all, implementation of SGMA impacts all who extract groundwater or rely on a groundwater supply extracted by another person or entity. Examples of implications include: (i) one or more GSAs governing within a basin, which might subject groundwater users to multiple GSAs; and (ii) impact to water rights including for a stakeholder with multiple parcels located in the same basin that could become subject to regulatory oversight by multiple GSAs.

Proactive efforts by local agencies and private stakeholders are critically important throughout the SGMA implementation process in order to preserve individual water rights and water supply interests. Efforts can be as simple as learning which basin those rights or interests arise from; which local agencies seek to be the GSA; and engaging in the basin boundary regulation process.

This blog will continue to monitor this situation as DWR holds additional meetings and formulates more regulations intended for implementing SGMA.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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