California advances groundwater sustainability efforts

California groundwater well
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January 22, 2024 — The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) recently completed reviewing groundwater sustainability plans. These plans are crucial for managing the state’s groundwater, which is a key water source for over 15 million people, especially during droughts. .

Local Communities Develop Plans to Deal with Overdraft.

For the first time, local areas have developed these plans themselves. This is significant because it lets those who live near these water sources have a say in protecting them. This effort started in 2014 with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which set rules for managing groundwater to ensure there’s enough for the future.

A major problem these plans tackle is groundwater overdraft. This occurs when more water is taken out than is naturally replaced, creating  issues in the state such as  seawater mixing with groundwater, sinking land, and lower water levels. Some areas are in critical overdraft.

Progress and Next Steps.

Paul Gosselin of DWR noted that 98% of groundwater use is now under local managementOpens in a new tab.. DWR has approved plans for ten basins like Santa Clara River Valley East and deemed seven, including Modesto, as incomplete. Those with incomplete plans have six months to improve and resubmit them.

DWR’s role is to guide and support these local efforts. They offer planning help, technical advice, and money. Nearly $500 million has been provided for these groundwater projects.

A Changing Approach to Water Management.

Before SGMA, surface water and groundwater were managed separately. Experts speculate that California might lose 10% of its water supply by 2040 due to climate change. Expanding groundwater storage is a key part of tackling this issue.

Local Milestones Under SGMA.

All high and medium priority basins met the 2017 deadline to form new local agencies to manage groundwater. By 2020, these agencies in critical areas submitted their first plans, and by 2022, other areas followed. These agencies are now actively working on projects to ensure a sustainable water supply.

More Information: News release by the California Department of Water ResourcesOpens in a new tab., January 18, 2024.

Image:  A groundwater well by an irrigation canal in Maxwell, California. Photo taken November 29, 2023 by California DWR.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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