Orange County Branch Newsletter

May/June 2016

Sustainability Committee

Sustainable Groundwater Management in SoCal with SGMA

By Jessica Cassman, PE, ENV SP and Nathan Chase, PE, ENV SP

The Sustainability Committee for ASCE-OC along with the Environmental and Water Resources Institute, Orange County Chapter, organized a seminar focused on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Three distinguished presenters and more than 40 professionals attended the seminar held at Dave and Buster’s in Irvine on Thursday, April 7, 2016.

Enrique Lopez CalvaEnrique Lopez Calva, Water Resources Practice Leader/Principal, RMC Water and Environment, started off with an overview of SGMA and its context based on the recent California Water Action Plan. He explained the four basic phases of SGMA: (1) defining basins by the end of 2016; (2) forming Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) by June 2017; (3) developing detailed Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) by 2020 for basins with critical overdraft and by 2022 for non-critical basins; and (4) implementation of the GSPs and achieving the sustainability goals by 2040 for critical basins and by 2042 for non-critical basins. His presentation identified several challenges to balance withdrawal and recharge in groundwater basins; which in most cases, will require GSPs to focus on additional supply to increase recharge. It is expected that a dynamic and flexible water market will be critical to make compliance affordable and avoid significant increases in the cost of water.

Roy HerndonRoy Herndon, P.G., C.HG, Chief Hydrogeologist, Orange County Water District, highlighted how the Orange County Basin has been managed sustainably for many years, even through periods of drought. Based on OCWD’s experience managing the Coastal Plain of Orange County Groundwater Basin since 1933, historical records have been used to define minimum sustainable groundwater storage levels. Thus, OCWD can manage inter-annual withdrawal and replenishment rates to ensure long term sustainability and avoid undesirable results (such as chronic storage depletion, uncontrolled seawater intrusion, long-term land subsidence, etc.). Thanks to OCWD’s recognition as an “exclusive local agency,” they are not required to form a GSA or develop a GSP, instead they will develop an Alternative Plan to comply with SGMA. Next steps for OCWD are to complete the Alternative Plan by January 1, 2017 including coordination with all 12 agencies that manage other portions of the OC groundwater basin.

Brian PowellBrian Powell, P.E., Director of Planning, Eastern Municipal Water District, gave us a glimpse into the complex considerations and nuances of SGMA for partially adjudicated basins and formation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs). The text of the SGMA legislation recognizes that the San Jacinto Basin is adjudicated and therefore exempt from SGMA; however, the specific portions of the basin that are not adjudicated will likely be subject to SGMA. Although SGMA does not require that adjudicated basins form a GSA or develop a GSP, formation of a GSA in adjudicated areas may benefit stakeholders by granting legal authority to require registration of groundwater wells, measure and manage extractions, and require reports and assess fees. This would be especially helpful if, as is the case in the East San Jacinto Basin, the adjudicated portion of the basin includes properties with non-regulated pumping. Mr. Powell explained how a GSA could help agencies, such as EMWD, keep their basin in equilibrium by allowing them to levy fees on entities that pump excessively and use the funds to replenish the basin, rather than having to curtail pumping on behalf of EMWD.

It was a pleasure to have these experts on hand to help navigate the ins and outs of SGMA and provide real-world context for the complex legislation. Thank you to the members of the Sustainability Committee, the EWRI Orange County Chapter, everyone who attended, and especially the presenters for making this a great event!

Audience at SGMA event

Attendees at the joint ASCE-OC Sustainability Committee and EWRI-OC luncheon on SGMA.

Full versions of the presenters’ slides are available via Slideshare below: