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Legal Alert

California Department of Water Resources Determines Certain Groundwater Sustainability Plans are Inadequate – Now What?

California Department of Water Resources Determines Certain Groundwater Sustainability Plans are Inadequate – Now What?

On March 2, 2023, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) made its long-awaited determination regarding certain groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) located in critically overdrafted subbasins that were previously deemed incomplete. DWR found the following subbasins are now inadequate on the grounds that they do not substantially comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) or the regulations governing GSPs:

  • Kern County Subbasin
  • Tule Subbasin
  • Delta-Mendota Subbasin
  • Chowchilla Subbasin
  • Kaweah Subbasin
  • Tulare Lake Subbasin

Now that DWR has disapproved of the plans, primary jurisdiction over their fate shifts to the State Water Resources Control Board (Board). The Board now has the power to, following notice and holding a hearing, designate a subbasin "probationary." At such a hearing, interested parties would have the opportunity to address the Board regarding the merits of the determination.

If a subbasin is deemed probationary, the Board may require groundwater extractors to install meters, measure and report all groundwater extractions, and pay fees to cover the cost of Board activities. The Board has already established a fee schedule, which is $300 per well plus $40 per acre-foot of water extracted from a probationary subbasin.

During a probationary period, the Board may allow local agencies a period of time to correct deficiencies that caused the designation. For example, the Board may request DWR provide GSAs, within 90 days of the designation of a probationary basin, with technical recommendations to remedy the deficiencies.

If plan deficiencies are not corrected, the Board may develop and implement—one year after a basin is deemed probationary, and following a noticed hearing—its own interim groundwater management plan for a subbasin. An interim plan would include actions necessary to correct perceived deficiencies in the plan. Groundwater extraction fees increase to $300 per well plus $55 per acre-foot if the Board adopts an interim plan.

Board involvement ends when GSAs have demonstrated to the Board, in consultation with DWR, that they have addressed the issues caused the initial probationary designation.

While the Board's precise path in each subbasin remains to be seen, GSAs should continue to collect and submit monitoring network data, submit required annual reports (due April 1), and prepare and submit 5 year plan updates.

On March 2, DWR also determined that GSPs for the following subbasins have substantially complied with SGMA, and that DWR staff anticipates recommending plan approval:

  • Kings
  • Cuyama Valley
  • Westside
  • Paso Robles Area
  • Merced
  • Eastern San Joaquin

For these subbasins, DWR is developing additional recommended corrective actions "to further assist the GSA with implementation of the Plan and achieving basin sustainability goals." DWR advised it "would like to see the Subbasin address" these actions in the five year updates due in January of 2025.

If you have any questions or concerns about how these actions affect you, please contact David Cameron or the Hanson Bridgett Water Law Group.


For More Information, Please Contact:

David Cameron
David Cameron
Sacramento, CA