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SGMA Compliance Guidance

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), effective January 1, 2015, establishes a new structure for managing groundwater in California. This guide describes SGMA and its requirements, and will help you determine next steps to meeting the required timeline.

JUNE 2017

Local agencies form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA) for Bulletin 118 groundwater basins designated as medium- or high-priority.


GSAs adopt Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) for basins in critical overdraft.


GSAs adopt GSPs for non-critical medium- and high-priority basins.


Past practices for groundwater use may not be an option in the future. SGMA will drive the development of projects and programs to achieve long-term basin sustainability. Generally, SGMA requires:

  • Formation of groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) for all basins designated as high or medium priority by DWR
  • Development of a groundwater sustainability plan (GSP)
  • Implementation of the GSP to avoid “undesirable results”
  • SWRCB intervention when local agencies have been unable or unwilling to correct major problems


Chronic lowering of groundwater levels indicating a significant and unreasonable depletion of supply

Significant and unreasonable:

  • Groundwater storage reduction
  • Surface water depletion
  • Seawater intrusion
  • Water quality degradation
  • Land subsidence

Surface water depletions that have significant and unreasonable adverse impacts on beneficial uses of the surface water.

flowing artesian well
State of CA gwr depletion map


Is my basin a medium- or high-priority basin?

  • Currently 127 groundwater basins must comply with SGMA requirements to develop a GSP (43 are designated as high-priority and 84 as medium-priority)
  • Most of these basins are in the Central Valley or along California’s Central and South Coast
  • GSAs may not overlap
  • 26 adjudicated basins are exempt (although annual reporting is still required)
  • As of June 13, 2017 - 224 local agencies (including coordinated efforts by a combination of local agencies) have submitted GSA formation notifications for 344 separate areas in 127 basins; 100 with overlaps



Bulletin 118 is the basis of boundary definition but boundaries may be revised based on DWR guidance.


Any local water or land use agency or combination of local agencies overlying a groundwater basin may form a GSA.


GSP must be developed by 1/31/2020 for basins in critical overdraft, and by 2022 for all other medium/high priority basins. A GSP will include measurable goals and objectives, and implementation actions to achieve/maintain basin sustainability.


Monitoring, project implementation and administrative actions implemented to get basins under sustainable management by 2040 (basins with critical overdraft) or 2042 (basins without critical overdraft).


In Bulletin 118, DWR identified 515 groundwater basins and sub-basins based on physical and geopolitical boundaries.

  • SGMA allows basin boundaries to be revised to better align with existing technical data and to facilitate GSA formation and GSP implementation.
  • Under the CASGEM program, each groundwater basin has been categorized as very low, low, medium, or high priority.

Basin Boundary Revision

To revise existing basin boundaries or establish a new subbasin, a local agency must submit a request to DWR and demonstrate:

  • The boundaries of, and conditions in, the proposed adjusted basin.
  • The entity proposing the adjustment consulted with interested local agencies and public water systems in the affected basin(s) before filing the proposal with DWR.
  • How the proposed adjusted basin can be the subject of sustainable groundwater management and will not limit the sustainable management of adjacent basins.
  • Other provisions DWR may deem necessary to justify revision of the basin boundary.

Basin Boundary Modification requests were due March 31, 2016. Bulletin 118 to be updated by September 2016 to reflect changes. Second Basin Boundary Revision process to occur in 2018.


Any local agency or combination of local agencies overlying a groundwater basin may form a GSA by joint powers agreement, memorandum of agreement or understanding, or other legal agreement. Key to GSA formation are:

  • A public hearing held in the county or counties overlying the basin prior to GSA formation
  • Proposing GSA must file a notification with DWR and include specific required back-up information
  • Other coordination and notification requirements
  • For basins where no agency forms a GSA, county will assume the GSA role
  • GSAs will be required to coordinate within a groundwater basin and may coordinate between groundwater basins

"Ninety days following the posting of the GSA formation notice by DWR, the GSA shall be presumed the exclusive GSA within the area of the basin the agency is managing as described in the notice, provided that no other notice was submitted. (Water Code §10723.8(b))”


  • One GSA assumes responsibilities and authorities for the entire basin

    Could be a new or existing agency

    Would need to coordinate with local land use and water agencies in the basin

    One Basin
    One Plan
    One GSA
  • Several GSAs cover the same basin, allowing existing local agencies to retain authorities within its service area and assume new groundwater-related authorities

    Requires mandatory coordination among all GSAs for the entire basin

    One Basin
    One Plan
    Multiple GSAs
  • Flexibility in terms of responsibilities and authorities

    Requires mandatory coordination agreement among all GSAs for the entire basin

    One Basin
    Multiple Plans
    Multiple GSAs


A Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) can be a single plan covering an entire basin prepared by one or multiple GSAs or multiple plans prepared by multiple GSAs coordinated pursuant to an agreement that covers the entire basin. If multiple plans are prepared for the same basin, the GSAs must coordinate to ensure the same assumptions are made.

Each GSP must include:

  • Description of the physical setting and aquifer characteristics
  • Measurable objectives to achieve sustainability goal
  • Planning and implementation horizon
  • Monitoring and management of groundwater levels
  • Groundwater quality and quantity criteria
  • Consideration of applicable general plans

Proposed GSP regulations have been released and can be found at Click here to access a summary of these regulations.


We have developed a comprehensive guide to GSP understanding and development. You can download a PDF (9 mb) using the nearby button. The pocket guide presents the elements of a GSP as required by the recently enacted GSP regulations (CCR Title 23, Chapter 1.5, Subchapter 2, Groundwater Sustainability Plans). It also includes insights and expert recommendations from lessons learned through RMC’s years of successful, on-the-ground work with 27 of the 47 Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) Regions and the associated IRWM Plans developed to date in California.

A Groundwater Management Plan (AB3030 Plan) can be used as a starting point, but a GSP is much more comprehensive.

The Basin Management Objectives of a Groundwater Management Plan should be useful in crafting the sustainability goals.

GSP development flow chart
Water budget graphic


Central to each GSP is a water budget analysis. It allows one to track all water supply sources and water demand sinks in a geographic area to reduce vulnerability and risks to people, economy, and environment.

“ Water budget means an accounting of the total groundwater and surface water entering and leaving a basin including the changes in the amount of water stored.” (AB 1739)

GWR graphic showing inputs and outputs of the basin
Water budget needs a systems view.
GSP Goals and Objectives inputs


Sustainable groundwater management is defined as managing groundwater in such a way that it can be maintained during the planning and implementation period without causing undesirable results.

GSPs are required to include sustainability goals and measurable objectives for sustainable groundwater basin management.

Interim milestones are required for every five years.

Green area indicates measureable objective; red area is minimum threshold.

Outreach and Adoption

Development of the GSP is meant to be an open process in which interested parties have the opportunity to participate in the planning process.

At the start, a GSA must release a written statement about how interested parties can participate

Coordination and outreach is required with other GSAs in the same basin or adjacent basins and stakeholders

Following completion of the GSP, the GSA must:

  • Provide a 60-day public review comment period
  • Adopt the plan after a public hearing is conducted
  • Submit the GSP to DWR for review and evaluation.


A GSP must be implemented in order to achieve the sustainability goal within 20 years of GSP adoption. Each year, the GSA must submit an annual report to DWR.

GSP must be periodically evaluated to determine whether modifications need to be made to the plan due to changing conditions in the basin or to adaptively manage the basin and ensure the sustainability goal will be met.

Project Implementation

Projects and/or programs may be identified and implemented to:

  • Help address groundwater contamination
  • Promote recharge, diversions to storage, water conservation, water recycling, conveyance
  • Manage groundwater extraction

Projects would be implemented in order to achieve a basin’s sustainability goal and to help address identified basin issues such as groundwater overdraft or saline intrusion. 

DWR has released a white paper entitled Water Available for Recharge. This paper can be found 

 Click here for a summary of this public draft white paper.


To effectively manage groundwater extraction, a GSA can:

  • Require registration of a groundwater extraction facility
  • Require installation of a water-measuring device
  • Require facilities to report annual groundwater extraction
  • Regulate, limit, or suspend extractions.

GSAs are not authorized to issue permits for the construction, modification, or abandonment of groundwater wells, except as authorized by a county with authority to issue those permits.

Groundwater wells


  • DWR will identify the extent to which groundwater elevation monitoring is to be conducted
  • DWR will prioritize monitoring programs based on population, number of public water supply wells, and other relevant information
  • If DWR determines there is insufficient monitoring within a basin, a groundwater management plan or integrated regional water management plan with a groundwater management component may be required, or a voluntary groundwater monitoring association may need to be established


  • GSAs are required to commit to groundwater management, monitoring, reporting, and planning for decades.
  • GSAs must submit annual reports to DWR that will require ongoing coordination among the GSAs, water agencies, public agencies and private well owners.
  • DWR will review the GSPs every five years, at a minimum, and issue assessments for each basin evaluating progress in achieving the basin’s sustainability goals.
  • DWR assessments could include recommended corrective actions to address identified deficiencies which the GSA would need to implement.
RMC leading public meeting


To finance the preparation and implementation of a GSP, a GSA may:

  • Impose fees on groundwater extraction.
  • Collect penalties for overpumping—up to $500 per acre-foot in excess of the authorized amount.
  • Utilize available grant funding.

Proposition 1 – the 2014 Water Bond Authorizes $7.54 billion for water resources projects in California.

$900 million to Groundwater Sustainability funding programs to be administered by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and DWR.

  • $100 million of the $900 million will be awarded by DWR specifically for the development and implementation of groundwater plans.
  • $800 million will be administered by SWRCB with a focus on water quality improvements and maintenance, remediation, and assisting disadvantaged communities.

Other portions of Prop 1 that may be available to SGMA-related efforts include: $2.7 billion for water storage projects and $810 million for integrated regional water management projects.


RMC's professionals have been actively involved in the development of Groundwater Management Plans since the passage of the Groundwater Management Act in 1992, and are currently working with agencies around the state to comply with new guidelines created by the passage of SGMA in 2014. We have worked with many local and regional agencies throughout California—as well as the Department of Water Resources, and State Water Resources Control Board—on groundwater related projects. Through this work and our industry involvement, RMC has helped California agencies move toward sustainable groundwater management.


RMC, a Woodard & Currran Company is an environmental engineering firm focused exclusively on water. We work with public agencies and local communities to develop innovative solutions for managing one of the earth’s most vital resources. Every day, RMC brings sound technical expertise and innovative thinking to a broad range of local and regional water-related projects.

Please contact us for more information about how RMC can help you navigate the new sustainable groundwater management requirements.