In enacting the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) the California Legislature, for the first time ever, expressly linked the two historically distinct legal regimes governing water in the state that previously had been entirely separate: one governing surface water use and the other groundwater use. SGMA requires Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) and their Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs or Plans) to consider and address the groundwater-surface water interaction, and specifically the impacts of groundwater pumping on surface water beneficial uses.
SGMA defines sustainable groundwater management as the avoidance of six “undesirable results” identified in the law. The purpose of this guide is to help GSAs and other stakeholders understand and comply with the requirement of SGMA that groundwater withdrawals must not cause “significant and unreasonable adverse impacts on beneficial uses of the surface water,” known as “undesirable result no. 6.” This guide is based on the principle that existing legal frameworks (laws, regulations, court decisions, etc.) provide the clearest and most pertinent guidance on what constitutes undesirable result no. 6.
This guide addresses only the explicit legal aspects of this statutory mandate. It does not address technical and scientific aspects of SGMA compliance and offers no advice on the steps GSAs must take to get an adequate technical understanding of the groundwater-surface water connections under their purview. GSAs may look to other sources for guidance on that front. In addition, “Navigating Groundwater-Surface Water Interactions under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” authored by experts at the University of California Berkeley provides a helpful overview of the steps involved in implementing SGMA provisions relating to groundwater-surface water interactions.