Groundwater Sustainability Moves Forward: Will Communities Be Left Behind?

By Jennifer Clary

On Wednesday, the California Water Commission approved emergency regulations for the implementation of the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). These regulations are a significant milepost in what will be a very long journey towards groundwater sustainability in California.

The regulations are intended to provide requirements for local agencies developing groundwater plans as well as identify the evaluation tools that will be used by the Department of Water Resources to determine if a local agency is making adequate progress towards sustainability.

Clean Water Action, along with dozens of environmental, environmental justice and local community organizations, provided extensive comments to help strengthen the regulations. We know from long experience that local engagement, transparent information, and a strong and accountable governance structure are the basic building blocks of strong institutions. This is especially important in the case of groundwater, which directly impacts the lives of millions of Californians and has been exploited for decades.

While the initial draft of the regulations released in February were promising, the final regulations approved this week rolled back many of the items we supported, including local engagement at important junctures, open-source modeling and public data requirements and a mandate for coordination between water management and land use entities.

While many of the Commissioners sympathized with our concerns, their role was limited to approving or disapproving the regulations. Any suggestions they provided for amendments are merely advisory; and staff indicated that, while some clarification might occur, the substance of the regulations would not change. We understand their decision to approve the regulations, but find their process to be wholly antithetical to the principles of public engagement and inclusiveness.

As a result, many local communities will have to work harder to participate in the development of plans for their basin and gain access to information about groundwater conditions. Some local groundwater agencies already have or are developing robust public processes, but in other areas, the very agencies responsible for depleting local aquifers are in charge of the new planning efforts. We need tools to hold these agencies accountable for their actions; without transparent data and governance, that is much more difficult. However, these agencies (many of which have yet to be formed) will be public agencies, and subject to public meeting and disclosure laws. Clean Water Action plans to assist local communities in gaining and maintaining access to information and participating in decisions about their local water supply.

The next step in the road to sustainability is a requirement to establish a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) in each of the 127 groundwater basins covered by SGMA. That must be done by July 1, 2017. Basins or portions of basin that are not covered by a formal GSA by the July 1, 2017 deadline – or those areas that are covered by multiple, conflicting GSAs – will be subject to enforcement action. Many agencies have already filed their GSA formation notices with the Department, which maintains a list and map of local agencies. My advice? Look at the list and the map, find your GSA, and contact them to let them know you are interested in participating in their process. And let me know how it goes.

One thought on “Groundwater Sustainability Moves Forward: Will Communities Be Left Behind?

  1. Southern Humboldt Community Park Draft EIR for Dummies,

    Since the Southern Humboldt Community Park NOP meeting in September 2010 (last public meeting) the Park Board has taken housing development out of their project for the Park. Except in this project, the Park Board is requesting to keep their development rights or credits on the Park property and bank them until such time that Humboldt County has a county wide program, which at this time they do not, nor is it being proposed or even on the horizon.

    They want 16 acres of the Park rezoned, down at the Kimtu entrance, for sports fields and a new 1000 sq. ft. restroom, concession stand, bleachers, fencing between each field and parking lots. They want 7.47 acres of turf grass for two baseball, one soccer and one football field that would require 2-3 million gallons of watering each month, let alone the water for start-up (one year) and construction. This does not include the extra water the fields would need before every game and after every practice for each field. There are no restrictions for any sports events, either by attendees or number of days. So they could have 800 people per day for tournaments included in this project.

    Now, speaking of water, they say all the water for this project will come from an on-site spring, well and diversion from the South Fork Eel River that are on-site, but they do not talk about how they are going to treat the water before the public is allowed to drink or use it.

    They want to be allowed to have up to 800 people per day at the Park for normal everyday daily attendance, with parking on-site, including an unlimited amount of public and private events, concerts or fundraisers with up to 800 people per day and occasionally until midnight, which may include camping or sports events or both over the same weekend including night games.

    Speaking of camping, they want 2 acres re-zoned just for camping. They are requesting that camping in that area be allowed all year, 24 hours a day, but mostly in the spring, summer and fall.

    They want to put in two new 400 sq. ft. restrooms at Tooby Park and the new Park Headquarters (main Ranch house on McKee Way). They want to expand and remodel the existing ranch house, the caretaker’s house and the two story barn to allow for public meetings, public kitchen, offices, private events, more new restrooms and public assembly. Also they propose expanding camping for farm workers.

    And they want to have one amplified Music Festival per year over two days, with up to 4000 attendees, 1000 vendors, staff, volunteers and camping for 1000 on-site.
    They want to have 5 amplified events, concerts or fundraisers per year with up to 2000 attendees and 500 vendors, staff and volunteers, over an undisclosed number of days and camping for 500 on-site.

    They want to have parking for 850 vehicles on-site at the Park, and claim there are an additional 1454 parking spaces between Garberville and Redway, excluding parking lots for businesses, and will bus people in, like the Mateel does for their events.

    Beside the housing issue from last time (2010), nothing has changed other than they want to expand almost everything else. And since 2010, they have had no meetings open to the public, no public community meetings or anything the public can read until now.

    My concerns in a nutshell are the degrading effects to neighboring property owners and wildlife habitat from amplified music, noise, artificial night lighting effects, South Fork Eel degradation from non-beneficial water use and storm water run-off, trespassing and illegal camping, converting prime farmland to public recreation, increased traffic, public safety concerns on Sprowel Creek Road and keeping their development rights to the property.

    Please say something about this, please submit comments. Please tell your Supervisor or Michael Richardson at the Planning Department what YOU think, not in a form letter from the Park Board.
    Direct your comments to: Michael Richardson, Acting Supervising Planner
    3015 H St., Eureka, CA 95501
    (707) 268-3723 or
    Comments will be accepted until June 27th, 2016. All comments received and all responses to the comments, will be forwarded to the Planning Commission and Board of Super-visors for consideration at future public hearings on the project.
    View the DEIR at
    See a paper copy at the Garberville library or use their computers. 923-2230

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