SGMA Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

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  • What is SGMA?

    SGMA is the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which was enacted in 2014 and became effective January 1, 2015.  SGMA is important because it requires the regulation of groundwater for the first time in California’s history and provides new authorities to local agencies to implement these requirements.  The intent of SGMA is to strengthen local management of specified groundwater basins that are most critical to the state’s water needs by regulating groundwater use.  

  • Who will implement SGMA?

    Local public agencies with water supply, water management, or land use responsibility within a basin may form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) to manage groundwater.  The County is presumed responsible for all areas not otherwise covered. The State Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) are the state agencies in charge of ensuring that SGMA is implemented.  The State Water Board will take over groundwater management if local agencies are unable or unwilling to implement SGMA.

  • What areas of San Diego County are subject to SGMA?

    SGMA is required to be implemented in four basins in the County that have been ranked as “medium priority” by DWR. Those SGMA basins are Borrego Valley, San Luis Rey Valley, San Diego River Valley and San Pasqual Valley.  These areas were identified by the state as a priority based on factors such as overlying population, projected growth, public supply wells, total number of wells, reliance on groundwater as primary source and impacts on groundwater (i.e., overdraft, subsidence, etc.).

  • What is a groundwater basin?

    A groundwater basin is an area underlain by permeable materials (e.g., sand) that is capable of storing and providing a significant supply of groundwater to wells.  DWR has ranked 127 basins throughout the state as medium or high priority and, thus, subject to SGMA. 

  • What does sustainable management mean?

    Simply put, sustainable groundwater management means managing our water for future generations, while balancing the needs of our economy, environment and health and safety.  It means prudently storing water in wet years to ensure availability in dry years. Specifically, SGMA defines “sustainable groundwater management” as “…the management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results”, which are defined as any of the following:

    • Chronic lowering of groundwater levels;
    • Significant and unreasonable reductions in groundwater storage, seawater intrusion, degradation of water quality or land subsidence; or
    • Surface water depletions that have significant and unreasonable adverse impacts on beneficial uses
  • Why do we need to manage groundwater?

    Prudent groundwater management will provide a safeguard against prolonged drought and climate change and contribute to a reliable source of water supplies for future generations.

  • Who does SGMA affect?

    SGMA affects groundwater users located within a SGMA basin that is required to be sustainably managed. Domestic groundwater users that use less than 2 acre-feet per year (afy) are exempt from reporting requirements. On average, a single-family residence uses about 0.5 afy. 

  • What does a Groundwater Sustainability Agency do?

    The primary purpose of a GSA under SGMA is to develop and implement a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) to achieve long-term groundwater sustainability.  GSAs are empowered to utilize a number of new management tools to achieve the sustainability goal, such as: register and meter groundwater wells, mandate annual extraction and water level reports from individual wells, impose limits on extractions, mitigate against overdrafts, implement rules and regulations, and assess fees to support creation and implementation of a GSP.  

  • What is the County of San Diego’s role?

    The County Board of Supervisors elected to become a GSA in Borrego Valley on January 6, 2016 and in the three remaining medium-priority basins (San Luis Rey Valley, San Diego River Valley and San Pasqual Valley) on August 3, 2016.  The County will be partnering with other local public agencies who elect to become a GSA.

  • What is a Groundwater Sustainability Plan?

    A Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) is the state-mandated plan to sustainably manage groundwater.  Each GSP will contain an assessment of each basin, measurable objectives for reducing groundwater usage (if necessary) and a description of how reductions will be achieved.  The GSP will also include any necessary monitoring, management, enforcement, and other requirements to achieve sustainability

  • Who will be involved in developing the GSPs?

    GSAs are ultimately responsible for developing GSPs, but SGMA is clear that GSAs must involve stakeholders in developing GSPs.  The County will retain an interested parties list for each basin.  The County, acting as a GSA or in its capacity governing land use, will continue to ensure opportunities for participation and input from stakeholders interested in this issue as GSPs are developed.

  • When do these regulations take effect?

    SGMA took effect on January 1, 2015, although there are no immediate changes to groundwater use.  SGMA requires that local agencies determine whether they would like to elect to become a GSA by June 30, 2017.  A GSP must be adopted by 2020 for critically overdrafted basins, and 2022 for other high and medium priority basins. Finally, it provides time (20 years from the time a GSP is implemented) to take the actions necessary to achieve sustainability.  

  • Is there a cost to SGMA?

    There are costs to develop a GSP, and possibly, to implement the changes in water use that may be required by SGMA.  Those costs are currently being evaluated by the County.

  • What is next for the areas affected by SGMA?

    The County will be working with local agencies along with DWR and interested parties to develop partnerships and governance agreements for each basin. Then, with stakeholder input, the GSAs will begin work developing a GSP.