Our Groundwater Authority (GA) finds itself in two major lawsuits plus adjudication by failing to grasp the key concept of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Section 10720.1(b) of SGMA sets forth the state’s intent to “preserve the security of water rights in the state to the greatest extent possible consistent with the sustainable management of groundwater.” Thus, SGMA intends first to manage groundwater sustainably. SGMA intends to preserve the security of water rights only to the extent possible without disrupting the sustainable management of groundwater. In other words, where there is a conflict, sustainability trumps groundwater rights. We need to understand this concept if we are to equitably escape the historic groundwater rules that created our overdraft problem in the first place.
By “sustainable management of groundwater,” SGMA means to avoid undesirable groundwater results as defined through processes laid out in SGMA. However, the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) finds that our GA has improperly identified and quantified undesirable results within the meaning of SGMA. DWR goes on to say that “this constitutes a discrepancy that the GA will need to address” before 2025 if it wishes to retain approval for its Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). Had the GA properly defined undesirable groundwater results, it might have, at best, avoided litigation in the first place and at worst, greatly improved its chance for success in litigation now in process. The GA should act now to correct the “discrepancy” that threatens the continued approval of our GSP. The GA has much work to do before DWR’s next review of our GSP in 2025.