Frequently Asked Questions

What is “sustainable” groundwater management?
What areas of Sonoma County are affected?
Who will manage groundwater in Sonoma County?
Isn’t groundwater already managed in Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa?
When will the groundwater sustainability plan be in place?
Will stakeholders and the general public be involved in implementing SGMA?
Does SGMA affect my water rights?
Who will pay for the implementation of SGMA and any programs/projects?
How will the new law affect me?
Will SGMA limit how much water I can use?
Will this raise my water bill?

What is “sustainable” groundwater management?

SGMA defines sustainable management as managing and using groundwater in a way that can be sustained over a long period of time. Specifically, SGMA defines sustainable yield as the amount of groundwater that can be withdrawn annually without chronically lowering groundwater levels, causing seawater intrusion, degrading water quality, causing land subsidence or depleting interconnected surface water (for example, creeks, streams and rivers) in a manner that causes significant and unreasonable impacts.

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What areas of Sonoma County are affected?

While Sonoma County has 14 state-identified groundwater basins and sub-basins, only three – Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley – are currently designated medium priority by the California Department of Water Resources. SGMA requires each of these three basins to have a locally-adopted Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) by 2022. A GSP is not required for Sonoma County’s 11 low- and very low-priority basins and subbasins, and SGMA does not apply outside of mapped groundwater basins. Basins are prioritized based on a number of factors, including population, amount of irrigated agriculture and reliance on groundwater. The California Department of Water Resources may reprioritize basins in the future, which could result in medium-priority basins moving into the high-priority category and low- or very-low priority basins moving into the medium category.

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Who will manage groundwater in Sonoma County?

The first requirement of SGMA was to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) by June 2017. The three GSAs formed in Sonoma County are regulatory bodies that can manage groundwater using a variety of tools, including setting fees, requiring reporting, regulating how much groundwater is pumped, and monitoring wells. Click here for more information on the GSA for the Santa Rosa Plain, the Sonoma Valley, or the Petaluma Valley.

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Isn’t groundwater already managed in Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa?

Both Sonoma Valley and the Santa Rosa Plain groundwater basins have voluntary groundwater management plans that diverse stakeholder groups known as Basin Advisory Panels developed and implemented collaboratively. These voluntary, non-regulatory plans are an excellent first step, and will significantly advance the region’s ability to comply with the new law by establishing a robust data collection and monitoring program, and by promoting, studying and implementing programs and projects aimed at sustaining the basins’ groundwater resources and fostering stakeholder coordination. These plans, however, do not meet the more stringent requirements of the new law.

For example, the current plans include actions that could result in sustainable groundwater basins, if implemented through the voluntary cooperation of well owners and agencies. In contrast, the new law requires each Groundwater Sustainability Plan to include actions that will be taken to meet the sustainability goal in each basin. SGMA also provides the GSA with powers and authorities to ensure that these basins will reach groundwater sustainability within 20 years.

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When will the groundwater sustainability plan be in place?

SGMA provides specific timelines to implement the new requirements. Some key deadlines are below:

SGMA timeline

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Will stakeholders and the general public be involved in implementing SGMA?

SGMA requires the GSA to involve groundwater users and the general public in the development of the GSP. Diverse stakeholders and the public at large will continue to be involved in implementing SGMA in Sonoma County, just as local agencies, agriculture, the environmental community, and private well owners had critical roles in the Basin Advisory Panels in Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa Plain. Collaboration and stakeholder involvement will be key to the successful implementation of SGMA. Opportunities for stakeholder involvement include open public meetings of the GSA boards and advisory committees, advisory committee membership, and periodic community meetings.

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Does SGMA affect my water rights?

Section 10720.5 of the SGMA specifies that the act and any groundwater management plans developed as a result of the act do not affect surface or groundwater rights.

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Who will pay for the implementation of SGMA and any programs/projects?

During the GSA- formation process, GSA-eligible entities applied for and received grants funded by Proposition 1 to cover costs of GSA formation. For the first year of GSA operation, costs not covered by grant funds are being covered by member agencies, in amounts specified in the JPAs forming the GSAs. The GSAs will continue to aggressively pursue Proposition 1 and other grant opportunities to offset local costs. The law also allows for the GSAs to collect fees to help pay for the costs of preparing and implementing the GSPs.

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How will the new law affect me?

SGMA gives GSAs broad authority to manage groundwater, including authority to increase groundwater supply (for example, projects to increase groundwater recharge or replenishment) and to manage groundwater demand through well monitoring and, if necessary, regulating groundwater extraction. However, SGMA does not authorize GSAs to meter domestic groundwater wells that use less than 2 acre-feet per year. An acre-foot is equivalent to 325,851 gallons or the amount of water is takes to cover an acre with one foot of water. According to the Water Education Foundation, an average California household uses between one-half and one acre-foot of water per year for indoor and outdoor use. Local agencies also have authority to assess fees for groundwater management.

GSAs in Sonoma County will decide which of these new authorities, if any, are needed to sustainably manage groundwater in each affected basin. Given that the groundwater sustainability process is only beginning, including numerous opportunities for public and well owner input, identifying specific impacts of the new law on well owners is speculative. Once plans are adopted, the impacts could vary depending on where your well is located to the amount of water you pump annually; the local groundwater sustainability agency will decide what is necessary to sustainably manage groundwater in its basin.

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Will SGMA limit how much water I can use?

Locally developed GSPs will include programs and projects needed for each basin to become sustainable within 20 years. Under SGMA, it is possible that a local plan could limit the water pumped by individual well owners who pump more than two-acre feet annually. An acre-foot is equivalent to 325,851 gallons or the amount of water is takes to cover an acre with one foot of water. According to the Water Education Foundation, an average California household uses between one-half and one acre-foot of water per year for indoor and outdoor use.

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Will this raise my water bill?

Because GSPs have not been written yet, it is not clear what the specific effects of SGMA will be. GSAs may impose fees on groundwater users to help cover the cost of management. Whether fees are imposed and the size of any fees will decided by the GSA Boards with public input at a later date.

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