Document Details

Assessment of Interconnected Subbasins

Woodard & Curran, Inc. (Woodard & Curran), RMC Water & Environment (RMC) | June 30th, 2017

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) to develop groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) that achieve sustainable groundwater management within 20 years of adoption. All critically overdrafted basins must adopt GSPs by January 31, 2020; all other medium and high priority basins must complete GSPs by January 31, 2022. Since many subbasins are hydrologically connected to adjoining subbasins, sustainable groundwater management will require accounting for groundwater interactions with adjoining subbasins. Often, adjoining subbasins will use different analytical methods or apply different levels of technical rigor. Many GSAs are concerned that different methodologies for developing interbasin flows can lead to different results that will call into question the ability to achieve sustainability and would potentially create issues with SGMA compliance.

This effort evaluated opportunities and barriers for agencies to account for interconnected basin dynamics through the collaboration of technical experts focused on a portion of the northern Sacramento Valley Integrated Regional Water Management (NSVIRWM) Plan area. As interbasin flows (i.e., groundwater flow between interconnected basins) cannot be directly measured, the project reviewed available tools to investigate how they may or may not be suitable for use in estimating interbasin flows within the region. This process highlighted areas for local agencies to consider in addressing interbasin issues, developed a framework for analysis in other areas of the state, and identified areas where the state and federal government can assist local agencies implementing SGMA. This report is developed to provide summary level information appropriate for decision makers, with more detailed technical information and examples provided in the appendices or by reference.

Interbasin flow is groundwater entering or exiting a defined subbasin through its boundaries in the subsurface and may vary significantly in space and time based on the dynamics of inflow and outflow from the basins. Interbasin flows are driven by differences in groundwater levels (i.e. head gradients) across the basin boundary. Groundwater levels are, in turn, impacted by processes on the land surface. Land use and crop acreages drive water demand in a subbasin and indirectly drive groundwater pumping, which has a direct effect on groundwater levels (i.e., groundwater heads). The direction and magnitude of interbasin flow depends on the groundwater head gradient across the basin boundary and the conductivity of the aquifer materials.

It is widely recognized that the groundwater subbasins in the Sacramento Valley, and throughout the Central Valley, are interconnected to varying degrees. The Sacramento Valley Groundwater Basin includes many subbasins, extends over a wide geographic area, and includes numerous established and eligible GSAs. With interconnected subbasins, management decisions and actions in one subbasin may influence one or more adjoining subbasins. Such influence may positively or negatively impact sustainability. Thus, interbasin flows become critical to both GSAs’ development of GSPs and to DWR reviewing GSPs.


Groundwater Exchange, Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP), interbasin flow, modeling, Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)