Developing groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) requires solid technical analysis and a skillful stakeholder outreach and consensus program to successfully comply with California’s newly adopted Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
Water purveyors, farmers, landowners, and resource agencies must determine the right amount of groundwater production for agricultural output on thousands of acres while maintaining municipal supply and accommodating projected growth. The stakeholder outreach process is similar to that used for multiple species habitat conservation plans (MSHCP), which Dudek has successfully completed on numerous projects for clients throughout California. The MSHCP process and lessons learned are instructive for both established and newly formed groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) as they develop their GSPs.
Dudek’s Jill Weinberger, PhD, PG, is working with clients to develop adaptive, data-driven GSPs. She offers the following tips on effective stakeholder outreach when developing a GSP:
Start Stakeholder Outreach from the Get Go
Starting the process for GSPs, most stakeholders recognize less water will be pumped––everyone just hopes it will be someone else’s. The opportunity, and challenge, is to make consensus-building a collaborative rather than adversarial process, which was typical of the past adjudication of groundwater basins. Consistent, regular, and clear communication can mollify concerns through education and clear articulation of the stakeholders’ positions. SGMA’s mandated 5-year review and 20-year horizon to achieve sustainability allows stakeholders to build trust as they work together to refine the plan.
Recognize Stakeholder Concerns are Valid
Each stakeholder comes to the table with a diverse set of considerations. Water purveyors must ensure water that flows to customers despite population growth and declining water resources. Farmers need time to adapt to changing availability of water. Resource agencies and environmental groups seek to maintain or restore groundwater-dependent riparian habitat as a state-recognized beneficial use of water. Representation by all stakeholders on the GSA board or technical advisory committee helps ensure that diverse concerns are heard and acceptable compromises are reached.
Accept that Costs Must Be Shared
All water users are beneficiaries of more sustainable groundwater practices and, as such, are equally responsible for the costs of implementation. For example, in coastal groundwater basins where seawater intrusion is a concern, pumpers adjacent to the coast may need to reduce production more than those farther from the coast. Therefore, stakeholders in the basin should contribute to infrastructure that supplies replacement water to those cutting back.
Embrace Uncertainty by Creating Adaptive GSPs
It is important to acknowledge that more is unknown than known about the hydrogeology of basins. Even in basins with “good information,” uncertainty may remain regarding natural recharge, irrigation return, subsurface interbasin flows, and other key components of the water balance. Stakeholders don’t want to be locked into rigid actions based on inaccurate information. So, first, agree on what is undisputedly factual. Second, identify areas with the least knowledge and what exactly must be learned.
The first data should be viewed as tentative, however GSAs don’t want to use tentative numbers to make hard decisions with drastic impacts. So, while data is in draft form, work with number ranges (e.g., rather than a rigid preliminary estimated sustainable yield of 100,000 acre-feet per year, start with a range of 60,000–140,000 acre-feet per year).