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New Legislation That Will Impact Groundwater Management

A few minutes with a Public Agency Attorney

October 17, 2014

On September 16, the Governor signed into law three bills that together make up the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The signing of Assembly Bill 1739 (Dickinson) and Senate Bills 1168 and 1319 (Pavley) created a comprehensive framework to regulate groundwater for the first time in California history. The legislation is intended to increase local control and the protection of groundwater basins throughout the State.

The legislation requires the creation of new local groundwater sustainability agencies that are responsible for establishing and adopting groundwater sustainability plans for medium and high priority basins that address local conditions and needs. These groundwater sustainability plans must set a path toward sustainable management to eliminate undesirable groundwater conditions, such as chronic lowering of groundwater levels, significant and unreasonable degraded water quality or sea water intrusion, substantial land subsidence, and significant reductions in groundwater storage. The legislation establishes priorities depending on the condition of the groundwater basin and sets a timeline for implementation:

  • By January 31, 2015, the initial priority of each basin shall be established.
  • By 2020, overdrafted groundwater basins must have groundwater sustainability plans.
  • By 2022, other high and medium priority groundwater basins not currently in overdraft must have groundwater sustainability plans. 
  • By 2040, all high and medium priority groundwater basins must achieve sustainability.

The legislation sets forth objectives and milestones for local groundwater sustainability agencies to achieve and enables the groundwater sustainability agencies to impose fees to fund the costs of a groundwater sustainability program. And, if the local groundwater sustainability agency does not meet the established objectives, the SWRCB may intervene. This legislation is lengthy and complex, and leaves numerous questions regarding implementation unanswered. While there is broad based support for this legislation from water and groundwater associations and agencies, some agencies are concerned about the impact the legislation may have. These implementation issues will likely be debated and resolved over the next several years.

Pat Miyaki has been representing local government agencies for more than 20 years as both general counsel and special counsel. He represents water districts, transportation districts, sanitary districts, cities, and joint powers agencies.

For more information, please contact:

Patrick Miyaki

415-995-5048 Direct Phone
415-995-3512 Fax

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