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Are you ready for SGMA? The time for involvement is now

Updated: Jan 19

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) became the law of the land in California in 2014 and will have a profound impact on agriculture in our state. The purpose of the law is to create a supply and demand balance for groundwater that will be sustainable into perpetuity.

Essentially, the law seeks to end the mining of groundwater. To accomplish this goal, SGMA requires every square inch of California with groundwater beneath it to become part of a locally controlled Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA). The law then requires those GSA’s that represent critically overdrafted groundwater basins to produce a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) by the year 2020. Those plans are required to lay out a strategy for how each GSA will reach “sustainability” by the year 2040. So where are we and why should the dairy industry care?

GSA’s have been formed in all of California. In fact, there are now well over 200 GSA’s, and of those, about 125 of them are in areas of the state that have been designated as critically overdrafted basins. Why the dairy industry should care is that much of our industry is located in these critically overdrafted basins and SGMA regulations will definitely impact our water supply.

Since the 1st of June on behalf of MPC, I have been attending meetings of the GSAs in the dairy areas of the Central Valley for the purpose of being the industry’s eyes and ears and advocate. What each of these GSAs did after organizing was to hire water engineering firms to help them figure out how much water was under the ground. Doing so requires plugging tens of thousands of pieces of data into pretty sophisticated groundwater models. As these water budgets started to come into focus over the past month or so, the numbers for how much native groundwater water that can be sustainably produced in many of these overdrafted basins is coming in at between ½ and 1 acre-foot per acre per year. This is very sobering. There are many of these basins that have access to surface water supplies which does make managing the eventual groundwater pumping restrictions more doable, but we also have a certain amount of California dairy farms that are located in parts of the state where they have no access to surface water supplies. These dairies are the most vulnerable to the impacts of SGMA.

What producers should do immediately is identify which GSA you are in and seek out the leadership of that GSA for the purpose of participating in the process of developing the GSPs. SGMA gives the local community a lot of latitude in developing the plan. Ultimately, the impact of SGMA is going to be on the individual producer, but as an industry we need to come along side and provide assistance, particularly in providing support for projects to supplement groundwater supplies. Those supplemental supplies are mostly those infrequent flood water flows that occur in really wet years. Infrastructure to capture and recharge that water needs to be constructed and because these flows show up infrequently, the cost of this infrastructure is quite large, often requiring outside money in order to be feasible.

Another part of the management of this challenge will be to develop water marketing systems that will enable producers to purchase extra water from willing sellers. These water market systems have been successfully implemented in other parts of the world where water is limited.

The bottom line is that this process is well underway and for the most part dairy producers have not been as involved as they should be. There are things that can be done to make it better, but SGMA at its core is about allocating pain. The industry will do what it can to provide support, but that support will be most effective when provided in conjunction with strong local efforts by individual producers in your local community. If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, feel free to give me a call at 909-730-1240 or email me at

Geoff Vanden Heuvel

Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs

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