California Water Professionals Week, which highlights the role of water industry professionals in ensuring safe and reliable water, is October 2-10. During the week, we are highlighting some of the hard-working professionals at DWR that are working every day to sustainably manage the water resources of California.
Below is an interview with DWR’s newly appointed Deputy Director of Sustainable Groundwater Management Paul Gosselin. Paul is a long-time water industry professional in California who will now lead the Department’s SGMO Office in implementing the State’s historic Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
What is your role with DWR and what excites you about the position?
The people and problem solving are two of the main things that excite me about working at the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). I joined DWR in July of 2021 as Deputy Director of Sustainable Groundwater Management.
A critical part of my position is overseeing the Department’s review of local groundwater sustainability plans as part of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The effort to advance local programs to sustain groundwater resources is among one of the most important decisions facing California today.
Groundwater is an integral part of people’s daily lives, whether they rely on it for their domestic water supply, food production, businesses, and even natural ecosystems depend on groundwater. About 6 million people rely 100% on groundwater for their drinking water and household needs. When there are no other water sources available and we are experiencing such extreme drought impacts and changes in climate, these communities face very dire circumstances.
Working with local agencies and communities to find solutions specific to their needs to meet sustainability is key to overall success of our work and of this historic groundwater law.
What is your education and background in the water industry?
I joined the Department after serving 13 years as Butte County’s Director of Water and Resource Conservation. My primary efforts at Butte County centered on sustainable groundwater management and integrated regional water management, developing and fostering regional partnerships throughout the Northern Sacramento Valley. This included leading local SGMA implementation efforts, overseeing the development of three Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) and was administrator of two Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs). I also led Butte County’s drought response as chair of the Butte County Drought Task Force. Prior to that, I have diverse experiences working both in California and out of state on water and environment regulatory programs (for Paul’s full biography, please visit DWR’s Executive Team webpage).
Why do you believe working with local agencies, agriculture, groundwater users and interest groups is important?
The challenges and opportunities to advance sustainable groundwater solutions will require the involvement and creativity of every sector. California is diverse and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. I enjoy learning from the experiences and ingenuity of the many various interests in California.
What experience do you have working with wells and groundwater?
Early in my career, I was a field inspector and sampled domestic wells for contaminants. I participated in field studies on groundwater movement and analysis for contaminants. I oversaw a study on groundwater contamination in golf courses that were more than 100 years old, and the study characterized contamination from fertilizers and pesticides. Today, I am a domestic well owner and my family relies on groundwater to serve our household needs.
Why is groundwater important to California?
California’s groundwater supply is a critical natural resource, providing up to 40% of the State’s total water supply in average years and up to 60% of the State’s total water supply in drought years. Groundwater provides for our natural environments and ecosystems, as well as business and industry.
The State’s $50 billion agricultural industry utilizes groundwater to support food production that has a global reach. From a health and safety perspective, approximately 82% of Californians – almost 33 million people including me and my family – rely on groundwater for some portion of their drinking water or other household uses and nearly six million Californians are entirely dependent on groundwater for drinking water supplies.
In drought years when California turns from the less available surface water to groundwater, we need to be prepared for managing the resources sustainably, which is exactly what our office’s programs are working toward given the extreme impacts that we are experiencing with such variable changes in climate.
What is the Department’s specific role in implementing SGMA?
The Department is tasked with two key roles under SGMA – the first is to provide regulatory oversight for groundwater sustainability planning. DWR is required to prioritize the State’s 515 groundwater basins into one of four categories: high, medium, low or very low priority.
DWR is currently reviewing plans for how locals are proposing to monitor and manage groundwater through the implementation of projects and other management actions.
DWR’s second role under SGMA is to support local implementation with state assistance. A cornerstone of SGMA is that local control is key to successful groundwater management. DWR administered more than $150 million in financial assistance over the last four years to support local agencies in their planning efforts to develop GSPs. With the recent budget decisions this year, we are fortunate to be providing more financial assistance to locals to start implementing projects in the future.
What are the next steps the Department is taking related to groundwater management, drought, and SGMA that are important for the public to take away?
One of our office’s key priorities is the review of locally developed groundwater sustainability plans for compliance with SGMA’s law and regulations These early decisions on plans will set the stage for advancing groundwater sustainability decision-making over the next 20 years.
Along with the regulatory decisions, we continue to provide support and guidance to local agencies to help serve the needs of their communities. Drought impacts on groundwater and groundwater users is a major priority for us. The Department is leading an effort to develop groundwater strategies to mitigate drought impacts on drinking water, which includes engaging with county entities responsible for well permitting and GSAs who are responsible for the sustainable management of groundwater.
The strategies are being developed from the directive of Governor Gavin Newsom’s drought emergency declaration. The entire water industry will be better equipped to respond to drought impacts -- and groundwater wells will be more resilient to future droughts. Thanks to the Governor’s leadership and executive orders to address drought impacts, which when aligned with the implementation of local groundwater sustainability plans over the long-term, we have a strong framework for proactively addressing and mitigating future drought impacts.