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Community Perspectives on SGMA Implementation
Community Perspectives on SGMA ImplementationU.C. Davis Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior | June 13, 2019...Summary
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) of 2014 represents a historic opportunity to achieve long-term sustainable groundwater management and protect the drinking water...
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) of 2014 represents a historic opportunity to achieve long-term sustainable groundwater management and protect the drinking water supplies of hundreds of small and rural low-income communities that rely on this shared resource, especially in the San Joaquin Valley. Prior research, however, indicates that few of these communities are represented in the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) formed to implement the new law. This raises questions about other forms of community involvement, and concerns about the extent to which small and rural drinking-water interests are being incorporated into the process.
This report details the results of twenty-three interviews with thirty-one representatives of small, low-income communities who rely on groundwater for their drinking-water supplies. The findings suggest community stakeholders are highly interested in SGMA and desire to be involved in its implementation, which many deemed indispensable for the future of their communities. Many are actively participating or following the process, including by serving on boards and committees, attending meetings and workshops, and monitoring meeting minutes and agendas.
The experience of small and rural communities with SGMA is predictably diverse. Some interviewees have had very positive experiences thus far and are hopeful about the ways SGMA could benefit their communities and regions in the future. Others have felt overlooked or intentionally excluded. Yet many similarities also arose across the interviews including six common challenges and concerns about SGMA implementation:
1. Resource constraints to participation: Lack of staff, small budgets, in-house experts and an inability to pay for outside services/support limited communities’ formal participation in GSA governance and attendance and involvement in SGMA meetings.
2. Accessibility: Additional factors limiting the accessibility of the SGMA process included day-time meetings, language barriers, the proliferation of board and committee meetings, and irregular and unclear meeting schedules and notices.
3. Transparency: A lack of transparency in GSA decision-making as well as limited access to the data and information being used to develop Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) were common concerns for interviewees.
4. Lack of formal representation: The relegation of communities to advisory, rather than decision-making, roles in the SGMA process was also a common concern.
5. Limited opportunities to provide meaningful input and feedback: Whether participating as a decision-maker, committee member or as a member of the public attending meetings, many were frustrated at the lack of opportunities to provide meaningful input into decisions or on draft documents due to short turnaround times, not being provided necessary background or materials, and limited opportunities for public comment and open discussion.
6. Lack of addressing drinking water interests and priorities: Overwhelmingly, interviewees reported that drinking water interests, especially water quality and domestic wells, were not part of their local SGMA conversations, leading many to be skeptical that SGMA would have drinking-water benefits.
Best practices detailed by interviewees with particularly positive experiences and suggestions and recommendations from all of the interviewees, however, demonstrate ample opportunities to address these issues and increase the integration of drinking-water stakeholders and interests into sustainable groundwater management. Targeted efforts to reduce barriers to participation, improve communication and transparency, and promote diverse representation could go a long way to ensuring the “consideration” and “active involvement” of this important, historically marginalized, stakeholder group. For example, communities can educate their GSA about drinking-water priorities and the variety of regulations and requirements public water systems must comply with and coordinate with other small and rural communities to elevate and advocate for drinking water needs. GSAs should incorporate available public data into Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) while developing plans to fill data gaps, provide ample time for feedback on staggered and sequential GSP sections and streamline and increase interaction with stakeholders in meetings. State agencies should consider requiring or incentivizing collaborative community projects be included in GSPs, and community representation in GSP development and implementation as well as provide funding to support meaningful community involvement in all phases of SGMA implementation.