The past 5 years have taught us that a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP or Plan) is essentially a roadmap to groundwater sustainability in California. As implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA or Act) continues to progress, the recent Department of Water Resources (DWR) determinations on submitted GSPs help us better understand the expectations state regulators have for future groundwater management, which will have broad implications for groundwater use, water supply reliability, and the cost of water.
M&A experts summarized common themes and key issues found in DWR’s initial GSP assessments, published in the 2022 Hydro Note SGMA Experts Interpret DWR’s GSP Assessments. Now that DWR has reviewed the 12 plans that were initially incomplete and issued assessments on the 6 determined to be inadequate, we reviewed the new determinations to gain further insight on how to navigate SGMA implementation considering DWR’s expectations.
GSPs are not merely technical reports, but rather policy documents that set the goals and approach for long-term groundwater and water supply management to reach groundwater sustainability. Meeting the State’s bar for an acceptable GSP requires reading the regulations carefully, understanding DWR interpretations of regulations, and applying them to local contexts. GSP regulations can be interpreted in different ways, but ultimately it is DWR’s responsibility to ensure that all GSPs follow the regulations and the intent of the Act, while allowing for flexible approaches to local groundwater management. M&A’s SGMA team members reviewed the latest DWR determinations on the 2020 resubmitted GSPs to see which Plans were approved and how the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) revised them. Overall, our review focused on whether the GSPs provided more detailed explanations, conducted additional evaluations, added or better articulated mitigation programs, and/or revised their Sustainable Management Criteria (SMC).