Supporters, Critics Sound Off Over California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Taking Effect in 2015

On Jan. 1, 2015, California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act will take effect in an attempt to improve groundwater management and quality throughout the state. But for supporters and opponents of the legislation alike, the new law signals a move into “unknown territory” for California’s agriculture.

This was the phrase given by California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger, whose organization stands opposed to the new law, along with other agricultural groups in the state.

The CFBF held its annual meeting last week in Garden Grove, so members of the organization, state agencies and existing groundwater management districts could discuss the implementation of the law, which will include several stipulations and timelines for water use:

  • High or medium priority groundwater basins need to be managed under the Groundwater Sustainability Plan

  • All plans for the basins have to be developed by local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, which have to be local, public agencies with the authority to use water or land and must be identified by June 30, 2017

  • Basins that are critically overdrafted must complete their Groundwater Sustainability Plans by Jan. 31, 2020; other high and medium priority basins should have theirs completed by Jan. 31, 2022

  • Within 20 years from the law’s effective date, all Groundwater Sustainability Plans should be implemented and under local management

  • Any basins that don’t meet deadlines for sustainability will face intervention from the state water board, which will prepare a plan for that agency if no adequate plan is in place

CFBF Associate Counsel Jack Rice said at the Annual Meeting that he wants farmers, ranchers, and other local citizens to stay involved in the sustainability process, especially for the formation of the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies.

“Be careful and thoughtful about who that Groundwater Sustainability Agency will be,” Rice said to attendees, or the plans will be developed “by whoever shows up and is well-informed when they show up — and so if we don’t, then it won’t be us.”

Since the group protects farmers’ interests, Rice and others expressed concern over how well the state’s efforts for sustainability would work. And they weren’t the only ones concerned.

In Sacramento this Wednesday, Dec. 17, growers, media members, and agriculture industry professionals attended the Almond Conference. One panel, “Water: Policy and Politics,” was held to help attendees better understand California’s water issues.

One attendee said the new laws resembled “broken promises” by the state. Lester Snow of the California Water Foundation, who spoke at the panel, was supportive of the SGMA, though, calling it a necessary and “fundamental change” for how California would manage its groundwater supply.

With the state’s current 400 or more delineated groundwater basins, Snow said that the SGMA should focus more on letting local authorities manage groundwater as opposed to the state.

However, where supporters and critics of the new law differ, Snow would agree with Rice over public participation.

“Let’s harness this energy and get involved,” Snow said at the panel. “This is not a time to sit on the sidelines and let other people decide for us.”

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