Now is the time to comment on groundwater plans
Saldivar, California Farm Bureau Federation Ag Alert April 1,
Farmers across California have become very familiar with SGMA.
To some, it is just an acronym but to others, the Sustainable
Groundwater Management Act can and will reshape how farming is
carried out throughout the state. Now, farmers have the
opportunity to continue shaping the first set of local
groundwater sustainability plans created under SGMA.
California enacted SGMA in 2014—a landmark law to regulate
groundwater. Historically, landowners overlying groundwater
basins were limited to the reasonable, beneficial use of the
water; this water availability helped create the robust farming
economy for which California is known and on which the world
relies. Today, SGMA is the law of the land, but it cannot change
existing water rights or regulations.
Under SGMA, groundwater basins are governed by groundwater
sustainability agencies, or GSAs, with the California Department
of Water Resources overseeing them as the regulatory entity and
the State Water Resources Control Board as the enforcement
entity. SGMA authorizes groundwater management at the local
level, and its ultimate success will largely depend on local
stakeholders, many of whom are farmers.
The first big milestone for SGMA took place in 2017, when GSAs
were formed. The local agencies are responsible for overseeing
the development and implementation of groundwater sustainability
plans, or GSPs, for a basin.
The second big milestone for SGMA took place this year on Jan.
31, the submission deadline for GSPs covering the 21 critically
overdrafted basins in California. Following the January
deadline, DWR reviewed the plans and posted them online for a
75-day public comment period.
The original deadline to comment on the GSPs would be fast
approaching, but in light of the current circumstances
surrounding COVID-19, the deadlines have been extended by 30
days. The new deadlines for the public to comment on the posted
plans are May 15 and June 3, depending on when the GSP was
The groundwater sustainability plans are important because they
serve as roadmaps for how a basin will be managed and how it
will reach sustainability by 2040. A single basin could be
overseen by multiple, coordinated GSPs.
Farmers have been and will continue to be instrumental in
carrying out the measurable objectives of each GSP, and the
current comment period offers another opportunity for growers to
be a part of the ongoing conversation surrounding local
groundwater management. To ensure successful GSP implementation,
the plans need to be feasible and practical in each
region—farmers can help provide this local feedback and
Moving forward, it is critical that affected parties are not
only engaged in the pubic process for participation, but that
everyone understands what will be required of them under SGMA.
For SGMA implementation to be successful, we need solutions that
work for all involved—and in order for this to happen, farmers
need to be at the table.
Many of them already are. Growers have been a part of this
conversation since the inception of SGMA, and they continue to
work with others to secure a more sustainable future for
managing our precious groundwater.
For instance, farmers in Tulare County are very involved with
the SGMA process. There are 11 groundwater sustainability
agencies within the county, and many growers sit on GSA
governance boards, stakeholder advisory and technical advisory
committees—just one example of a county where farmers are being
proactive and collaborative.
The California Farm Bureau Federation consistently urges Farm
Bureau members to stay engaged and informed when it comes to
SGMA. Some Farm Bureau members do that by participating in the
public process of helping shape the local groundwater
sustainability plans; others stay engaged through attending
meetings in their county, subscribing to interest lists for the
GSAs where they farm, or participating in workshops.
When it comes to how groundwater will be used and managed, the
days of working alone are over. People and organizations must be
open to change and flexibility in this new regulatory world,
where groundwater is limited and agriculture remains
SGMA will impact each county very differently, so Farm Bureau
urges growers to continue or begin their engagement at the local
level, as agencies implement SGMA. It will be a long process,
but this public comment period represents another opportunity to
be a part of this ongoing conversation about groundwater
DWR has been encouraging public comment on the GSPs by
emphasizing it can be done online through its SGMA Portal at
Farmers and ranchers have proven to be adaptive and resilient
when faced with regulatory change. I am confident California
farmers have the grit and resilience to adapt, collaborate and
innovate, as we move forward in the ambitious and uncertain
world of SGMA.
(Sunshine Saldivar is associate
counsel for the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be
contacted at email@example.com.)
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