This article was contributed by Shawn Novack with the Water Resources Association of San Benito County.
In the midst of our most recent and severe drought, perhaps the most significant legislative water initiative in California in half a century was passed and signed into law, it is entitled: the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA).
The 2014 law provides a framework for sustainable management of groundwater resources by local authorities. Water sustainability efforts ensure that adequate amounts of high-quality water supply will continue to be available in the future. The integrated management of water resources is a delicate balancing act that aims to maximize the economic and social benefits that water resources provide while maintaining aquatic ecosystems.
In addition to being a source of water supply, groundwater basins in San Benito County also provide water storage, which is critical in ensuring a reliable water supply through drought periods. After a documented historical high groundwater level in 1913 (prior to significant groundwater pumping), groundwater levels declined as agricultural and urban pumping increased during the 20th century, reaching historical lows during the drought in the late 1970s. Subsequently, groundwater levels recovered and stabilized as a result of San Benito County Water District’s (SBCWD) management of the groundwater, including recharge activities, and the increased use of imported Central Valley Project water in lieu of groundwater.
There are multiple challenges to maintaining and ensuring groundwater sustainability, including increasing uncertainty about future availability of imported water, climate variability and competing demands from over-drafted basins elsewhere. In fact, during the last drought locally observed groundwater levels dropped significantly. The lack of imported water to keep the basin in balance coupled with localized drought had a big impact on our groundwater supply. With a couple of years of significant rain and large allocations of imported water we have seen the resiliency of our basin as water levels have risen to where the basin is almost full again. This really underscores the importance of imported water to our county.
SGMA establishes a timeline – 20 years – to implement actions that achieve long-term groundwater sustainability. It protects existing surface water and groundwater rights and does not impact drought response measures. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) is in charge of the SGMA Program and has developed guidelines for local agencies to follow. The SBCWD is the Sustainable Groundwater Agency (GSA) for our area.
The SBCWD basins have been designated by the DWR as medium-priority, recognizing that they are important sources of water supply, have been well-managed, and are not critically over-drafted.
Part of the requirements for SGMA is for GSA’s to produce a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). GSP preparation must be completed by 2022, and the basins must demonstrate sustainability by 2042.
The technical requirements and tools are being developed for the GSP right now. The SBCWD has assembled a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to assist them in developing this document. The TAC is made up of individuals selected to represent GSP-related subject areas, including but not limited to environmental, technical, and land use planning fields. This diverse group of experts in their respective fields will be responsible for reviewing the GSP scope of work, draft products, and materials prepared by consultants, analyzing them, and providing recommendations to the GSP Technical Team to develop a technically-sound GSP.
There is also a series of workshops that are designed to get input from the public. The District recognizes that this is a critical aspect of ensuring that this process is transparent, engaging, effective, and fully available to the members of the community. Overall community engagement, which includes involvement of diverse social, cultural, and economic elements of the population within the basin area, helps the District to best consider the full range of interests of all beneficial uses and users of groundwater, as the Plan moves forward.
Help create this plan to ensure a sustainable, reliable groundwater supply now and into the future by attending a Public Workshop. The next workshop will be Tuesday, June 18 from 4-6 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 649 San Benito Street, Room 204 in downtown Hollister.
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