Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

What is SGMA?

The California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was enacted by the California legislature in late 2014 and it went into effect on January 1, 2015. It provides for a legal framework to reasonably regulate production of groundwater in California for the first time in State history (surface water has been regulated since 1914). SGMA generally gives local agencies the authority necessary to physically manage groundwater in designated basins or subbasins throughout the State in a sustainable manner over a defined period of time (a 20-40 year horizon). It specifically provides for creation of governing Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) to write and implement Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) to accomplish measurable goals and prevent unreasonable physical harm to the basin or the water resource. Tri-County Water Authority has taken the steps necessary to serve as a GSA for several of those basins.

SGMA Purpose

  • Establish a definition of sustainable groundwater management
  • Establish a framework for local agencies to develop plans and implement strategies to sustainably manage groundwater resources
  • Prioritize basins with the greatest problems (ranked as high- and medium-priority)
  • Set a 20-year timeline for implementation


What are your rights?

Landowners in California are entitled to pump and use a reasonable amount of groundwater from a basin underlying their land to put it to a beneficial, non-wasteful use. When there is insufficient water to meet the demands of landowners, they are expected to reduce their use to bring extractions into the “safe yield” of the basin to prevent overdraft. Safe yield is the rate at which groundwater can be withdrawn without causing long-term decline of water levels or other undesirable effects such as subsidence.

The SGMA is designed to address issues related to both overdraft and safe yield, but does not change existing groundwater rights. Specifically, Water Code section 10720.5(b) says that nothing in the legislation “determines or alters surface water rights or groundwater rights under common law or any provisions of law that determines or grants surface water rights.”


Learn all there is to know about the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and download this free handbook provided by the Water Education Foundation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Tri-County Water Authority?

A Joint Powers Authority created between local agencies cooperatively working towards groundwater sustainability by establishing a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) and collaboratively developing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) used to manage groundwater in the Tulare Lake Hydrologic Region to accomplish measurable goals and prevent unreasonable harm to the basins in its service boundaries.

What is a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA)?

Any local agency or combination of local agencies overlying a high or medium priority groundwater basin or subbasin may form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA). Local agencies eligible to form a GSA include a local public agency that has water supply, water management, or land use responsibilities within a groundwater basin. GSA’s are required to be formed by June 30, 2017.

What is a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP)?

All GSA’s must prepare a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) which defines a course to achieve sustainable groundwater management within 20 years of plan implementation. Plans must identify when and where groundwater conditions cause problems, such as subsidence; the specific projects and management actions that local agencies will implement to prevent the problems; and milestones to track plan progress. Plans must also describe how local agencies will monitor groundwater and how monitoring data will be used to improve conditions in the basin.

How does SGMA impact me?

Local control and management is a fundamental principle of SGMA. Groundwater management will impact a variety of different stakeholders, including production agriculture, environmental interests, disadvantaged communities, and others. The Authority is a public agency which will consider the interests of all stakeholders in its service boundaries and will create a plan which will bring its Subbasins into compliance while aggressively protecting its stakeholder’s interests.

Does SGMA change existing water rights?

The SGMA does not change existing groundwater rights. Groundwater rights will continue to be subject to regulation under article 10, section 2 of the California Constitution. The Act includes numerous provisions to protect water rights. Water Code section 10720.5(b) says that nothing in the legislation “determines or alters surface water rights or groundwater rights under common law or any provisions of law that determines or grants surface water rights.”

Why is groundwater important?

Groundwater provides a substantial amount of the water used in the Central Valley. Currently our underlying Subbasins are in critical overdraft, wells are running dry, disadvantage communities are going without clean drinking water, habitat is declining and land is subsiding in some areas by as much as 30 feet. It is crucial we take steps together to protect our groundwater now and for future generations.

The Water Problem

The Tri-County Territory

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