Alternatives to Groundwater Sustainability Plans
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires local agencies throughout California to sustainably manage groundwater basins. Basins ranked as medium- or high-priority are required to develop groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) or submit an alternative to a GSP by the applicable statutory deadline. Alternatives should demonstrate how water managers have already achieved or will achieve sustainable groundwater management.
An alternative, per Water Code Section 10733.6 (b), may be any of the following:
- An existing groundwater management plan.
- Groundwater management pursuant to an adjudication.
- An analysis of basin conditions that demonstrates that the basin has operated within its sustainable yield over a period of at least 10 years.
Requirements for Approval
Alternatives underwent extensive technical review by Department staff to confirm they met the following standards:
- Alternatives must achieve the same outcome as a GSP, which is sustainable groundwater management for the basin.
- Alternatives must have been submitted by January 1, 2017, cover the entire basin, and be complete. Basins covered by an alternative must also comply with existing groundwater monitoring law.
- Alternatives based on a 10-year sustainable yield analysis must demonstrate the absence of undesirable results.
- Alternatives based on an existing groundwater management plan must demonstrate that implementation of the plan is likely to achieve sustainability within 20 years.
Alternative assessments are listed below and link to documents associated with the decisions. Original submissions and public comments can be viewed on the SGMA Portal.
Basins with approved alternatives are required to continue implementing plans and provide annual reports and five-year progress updates.
For alternatives not recommended for approval, submitting agencies have 30 days to inform the Department if they believe information in their original submittal was missed. New information or data cannot be submitted during this time. The Department will evaluate agency responses and finalize alternative assessments within 60 days of receiving comments.
Basins in which the submitted alternative is not approved must comply with the same deadlines applicable to other high- and medium-priority basins defined by SGMA. Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA) in these basins must submit a GSP by January 31, 2022.
Existing Groundwater Management Plan
10-Year Sustainable Yield Analysis
Frequently Asked Questions
SGMA requires that each medium- or high-priority groundwater basin develop a GSP that defines a sustainability goal for the basin (Water Code § 10727). SGMA provided an opportunity for local agencies to submit an alternative to a GSP for evaluation and assessment by the Department if the local agency believed that the alternative satisfied the objectives of SGMA for the basin (Water Code § 10733.6). Alternatives could be either (1) an existing groundwater management plan, (2) an adjudication, or (3) an analysis of basin conditions that demonstrates that the basin has operated within its sustainable yield over a period of at least 10 years (referred to hereafter as a “10-year analysis”). Additional requirements and evaluation criteria are provided in the GSP Regulations (23 CCR § 358 et seq.).
Agencies with approved alternatives are required to submit annual reports by April 1 of each year. Information provided in the annual reports is utilized by the Department as part of its ongoing evaluation to determine whether the alternative continues to satisfy the objectives of SGMA. Agencies with approved alternatives are also required to submit the alternative every five years and whenever the alternative is amended, and to provide a written assessment to the Department. The written assessment must describe whether implementation of the alternative, including implementation of projects and management actions, is meeting the sustainability goal in the basin, and shall include detailed information as stated in 23 CCR §356.4. The five-year update should show how a local agency is addressing any recommended actions identified in the Department’s written assessment of the alternative.
The annual reports and five-year updates from the agencies that submitted 10-year analyses must demonstrate that the basin has continued to operate within the its sustainable yield and has not experienced undesirable results.
The annual reports and five-year updates from those agencies that submitted existing plans must demonstrate that, through implementation of the plan, the agency is moving towards or achieving sustainable groundwater management of the basin.
The primary purpose of recommended actions is to facilitate the Department’s ongoing evaluation and assessment of whether the alternatives are satisfying the objectives of SGMA. If followed, recommended actions are intended to allow the Department to better track whether implementation of an alternative is achieving the sustainability goal for the basin.
Alternatives based on existing plans and studies that were developed prior to adoption of the GSP Regulations were not expected to precisely follow the format and terminology of a GSP. Therefore, the GSP Regulations allow for an agency submitting an alternative to explain how the elements of the alternative are functionally equivalent to the elements of a GSP. The Department used the submitting agency’s explanation of functional equivalency to facilitate its evaluation and assessment of whether the alternative contained sufficient information and data to demonstrate that it satisfied the objectives of SGMA.
Yes, a public comment period was open for 90 days following the submission of alternatives. The Department reviewed and considered public comments received on each alternative.
The Department has posted the final assessments for approved alternatives. Assessments for alternatives that Department staff have not recommended for approval are draft and the submitting agencies will be given 30 days to notify the Department if they believe specific, critical information that was included in the original alternative was not identified by Department staff during its review. No new analysis or documentation will be considered. The Department will evaluate submitting agency responses and finalize the assessments on a rolling basis within 60 days of the submitting agency’s response. If no response is received from the submitting agency, the recommendations in the draft assessment will become final at the close of the initial 30-day period.
SGMA does not provide for an appeal process related to the Department’s evaluation and assessment of alternatives. See responses above regarding the public comment period and the process for finalizing the Department’s assessments of the alternatives.
Basins without a GSA are subject to the State Water Board's groundwater extraction reporting requirements when disapproval of the alternative becomes final. To avoid groundwater extraction reporting requirements, the county or a local agency must notify the Department of its intent to be the GSA for unmanaged areas within the basin, per Water Code Section 10723 et seq. The State Water Board intends to coordinate with affected county governments to support the immediate formation of GSAs in unmanaged basins to avoid mandatory extraction reporting requirements.
Basins that have not yet formed a GSA(s) that intend to develop a GSP(s) for the entire basin may also be designated probationary by the State Water Board. A probationary designation may only occur after notice and a public hearing before the State Water Board. The State Water Board intends to coordinate with affected county governments to support the formation of GSAs that will develop a GSP for the entire basin to avoid probationary status.
Basins without an approved alternative where no GSA has been formed may avoid State intervention by taking action to immediately form a GSA and taking steps to develop a GSP for submission to the Department by January 31, 2022.
The Department provides a variety of services and support to GSAs including Financial Assistance, Facilitation Support, Technical Support Services, and Communication and Engagement.
Local agencies with approved alternatives may be eligible for Proposition 68 implementation grants, for which the Department anticipates releasing the grant solicitation in spring 2020. The implementation grants may provide financial assistance for those GSAs and local agencies implementing projects and management actions in support of implementation of their GSP or alternative. For the agencies whose alternatives were not approved, the Department anticipates release of the Proposition 68 planning grant solicitation in summer 2019, which may provide financial assistance to GSAs that are developing GSPs.
For programmatic questions, contact the Sustainable Groundwater Management Office:
- Communications and Engagement Section Chief: Keith.Wallace@water.ca.gov
- GSP Review Section Chief: Craig.Altare@water.ca.gov
- Technical Assistance Section Chief: Steven.Springhorn@water.ca.gov
State Water Board Questions
For questions of the State Water Board, contact the Groundwater Management Program by phone (916) 322-6508 or email SGMA@waterboards.ca.gov.
Basin Points of Contact
The Department has designated Basin Points of Contacts (POCs) to assist GSAs as GSPs are developed and implemented. POCs have been identified for all high- and medium-priority groundwater basins. For more information, please contact your Department regional office representatives identified below:
- Northern Region: Bill.Ehorn@water.ca.gov
- North Central Region: Bill.Brewster@water.ca.gov
- South Central Region: Dane.Mathis@water.ca.gov
- Southern Region: Timothy.Ross@water.ca.gov
The Department has developed a suite of data, tools, guidance documents, and technical references to assist in the development and implementation of GSPs. Throughout the SGMA implementation horizon, the Department will continue to develop relevant and useful tools with open access to necessary data and scientific information, in addition to providing access to Basin POCs. Available resources include:
Technical Support Services
- Monitoring well installation
- Groundwater level monitoring training
- Borehole video logging
- Other field activities
Facilitation Support Services
- Identification and engagement of interested parties
- Meeting facilitation
- Interest-based negotiation/consensus building
- Public outreach facilitation
Communication and Engagement
- DWR Region Office Contacts
- Communication and Engagement Digital Toolkit
- Integrated regional water management
- Water quality or drinking water
- Water supply or management
- Water use efficiency
Data, Modeling and Tools
- SGMA Portal
- SGMA Data Viewer
- DWR Land Use Viewer
- Climate Change data and modeling
- Best Management Practices & Guidance Documents
Inquiries on Alternatives:
If you have difficulty accessing any documents on this web page, please contact us and we will correct the problem or work to provide the information in an alternate format. Direct your request to:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone: (916) 653-6192