Finding solutions for groundwater management in California


A Critical Time to Manage Groundwater Sustainably

California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires over-drafted groundwater basins to achieve balance between supply and demand by the 2040s. This is a tough task for many communities, as their groundwater supply undergoes stress due to droughts, increasing regulations to protect endangered native fishes, demand for agriculture, and for municipal use.

A major part of the legislation requires local groups in the designated priority basins to form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA), to gather local input and draft a sustainable groundwater management plan. Another big piece will be technical assistance to implement the plans with local landowners, which will require local knowledge, scientific knowledge, relationships with landowners, state agencies, and trained professionals. Communities around California are seeing RCDs agencies which will represent local interests at the state level and as a good fit for providing technical assistance to reach the goals of the groundwater management plans.

RCDs as Groundwater Sustainability Agencies

The need for local representation and boots-on-the-ground technical assistance through SGMA is motivating many RCDs to step in and take an active role. Local landowners see the value of RCDs as local public agencies that are non-regulatory, established with the explicit purpose of responding to private landowner natural resource management concerns. As outlined by SGMA, GSAs must be “a local public agency that has water supply, water management, or land use responsibilities within a groundwater basin.” This limited scope positions RCDs as one of the few public agencies appropriate for being the lead of a local GSA. The Sloughhouse RCD is one such RCD which has become a GSA for its local sub-basin, which you can read about in our September RCD spotlight post.

RCDs Providing Technical Assistance

Tranquility RCD in the San Joaquin Valley is one RCD that sees an opportunity to serve local landowners once SGMA is in place. It has recently reconstituted its board of directors after many years of inactivity. Matt Hurley, the district’s new staff representative, was instrumental in the process of reestablishing the RCD and has been engaged in conversations around groundwater management in California since at least 2014, when he was serving on the board of the Association of California Water Agencies. During that time, “groundwater was quickly becoming an issue that could not be swept aside” and “a groundswell of interest in groundwater was developing statewide,” Matt said. He sees an opportunity for Tranquility RCD to partner with the local McMullin Area GSA, to provide technical assistance to landowners for any soil and water conservation issues as they arise due to possible fallowing of farmland that could occur due to groundwater use restrictions.

RCDs will continue to stay engaged in the conversation around groundwater and assist their local communities adapt to new requirements.

RCD Collaborators