Groundwater Sustainability Plans Require 8 Areas of Expertise

California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires all groundwater basins designated as medium or high priority to develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) to achieve sustainable management by 2040-2042. Basin priorities are assigned by the California Department of Water Resources based on multiple factors, including population, land use, and basin conditions.

Low or very low priority basins are not required to develop a GSP at this time, although implementing SGMA requirements would provide otherwise unavailable groundwater management tools. Adjudicated basins are not required to comply with SGMA, as they are already under a court-ordered sustainability plan, although some basic reporting is expected. Recent legislation requires conducting some SGMA activities even where parties are pursuing adjudication.

8 Areas of Expertise For Developing Groundwater Sustainability Plans

Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA) will face inter-disciplinary challenges to implement these plans. The seven areas of expertise that GSAs will have to manage are:

  • Hydrogeology: GSP requirements include extensive technical information used to characterize the geologic setting and develop historical and future water budgets in groundwater basins. Sustainable management criteria will bedetermined using available hydrologic data.
  • Planning: GSPs may have substantial effects on long-term land use planning because of the water-land-use nexus.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Stakeholder engagement is required by SGMA and is fundamental for GSP success. This includes public notification and participation, representation of beneficial uses and users, and active participation of diverse groups of interested parties.
  • Grant Funding Support: The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has a grant program for GSP development. Dudek has successfully secured multiple DWR grants for public agencies, including grants for GSA formation. Grant guidelines are available and a solicitation for GSP grants is expected by the summer of 2017.
  • Biology: During GSP development, GSAs must consider and describe impacts to Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems (GDEs) due to groundwater extraction.
  • Data Management: Each GSA will need a data management system to store and report data used to develop the GSP and to monitor the groundwater basin.
  • Engineering and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) In many basins, it is possible that new infrastructure projects will be needed to meet long-term water supply reliability and sustainability goals. Those projects would require both engineering planning and design as well as environmental review and permitting.

Dudek is leading the development of groundwater sustainability plans for Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency in Ventura County and for the County of San Diego and Borrego Valley Water District joint effort. Dudek has also assisted in GSA formation, basin boundary modification, and basin repriortization for the Santa Barbara County Water Agency, Montecito Water District, and Borrego Valley Water District.

More information on SGMA is available on the California Department of Water Resources site.

For more information, contact Peter Quinlan at or at 800-450-1818.