Date:July 18, 2017
Farmers, ranchers and dairy professionals are now identified as being among the beneficial uses and users of groundwater whose interests must be considered under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. This is the result of AB 321, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday.
AB 321 amends the Act, known as SGMA, which took effect Jan. 1, 2015. SGMA required groundwater sustainability agencies to be formed by June 30, 2017, in basins deemed high-priority and medium-priority. Many of the targeted basins have groundwater depletion and water quality problems.
The new agencies now must turn to development and implementation of highly structured groundwater sustainability plans that ensure basins are managed sustainably. SGMA has a number of provisions aimed at making sure the interests of diverse stakeholders are considered when such plans are developed.
AB 321, introduced by Assembly Member Devon Mathis (R-Visalia), expands the “agricultural user” category of interests that an agency must consider under Water Code section 10723.2 to specifically include farmers, ranchers and dairy professionals. The author urged the more specific references to ensure that the voices and institutional knowledge of those engaged in the agricultural industry are included in SGMA planning processes.
Groundwater sustainability plans must be developed in medium- and high-priority basins that are designated as critically overdrafted by Jan. 31, 2020, and in all other medium- and high-priority basins by Jan. 31, 2022. The plans will undergo scrutiny by the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board. If plans are deemed inadequate, agencies will have opportunities to cure the problems, but ultimately state intervention in the basin could occur if state concerns are not addressed.