ACWA Legislative Advisory: Groundwater Bills Signed by Governor Brown

  • by BPC Staff
  • on September 17, 2014
advisory header_State Leg (2).jpg
Sept. 16, 2014

Groundwater Bills Signed by Governor Brown

A three-bill package aimed at advancing sustainable groundwater management throughout California was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown today.

The legislation, known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, provides a framework for the improved management of groundwater supplies by local authorities. The bills also provide a mechanism for limited state intervention when necessary to protect groundwater resources.

The governor signed the bills during a press event in his Capitol office that included authors of the legislation, legislative leaders, and representatives of several organizations, including ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn.

“A central feature of these bills is the recognition that groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally,” the governor wrote in his official signing message. “Local agencies will now have the power to assess the conditions of their local water basins and take necessary steps to bring those basins in a state of chronic long-term overdraft into balance.”

The three-bill package, composed of AB 1739 (Dickinson), SB 1168 (Pavley) and SB 1319 (Pavley), requires the formation of new local groundwater sustainability agencies responsible for establishing long-term, locally-based groundwater management plans and ultimately protecting groundwater within their jurisdictions. The legislation also provides for limited state intervention as necessary to ensure that groundwater resources are being protected. 

In his remarks at the bill signing event, Quinn noted the historical nature of the package and said it is designed to empower local agencies to address a groundwater crisis that has been simmering for more than 50 years.

Quinn acknowledged that while ACWA supported the legislation, several member agencies remained opposed.

“ACWA recognizes there are concerns, particularly in the Central Valley, where water managers are struggling with drought and deep cuts in surface water deliveries. But it is important to keep in mind that this groundwater legislation is but one essential component of a comprehensive water action plan put forth by the Brown Administration and strongly supported by ACWA and its members,” Quinn said.

The governor also referenced the comprehensive water action plan in his signing message for the legislation.

“These bills accomplish a number of goals described in the California Water Action Plan, a five-year plan to sustainably manage our water resources,” the governor wrote. “When combined with the other elements outlined in the plan – conservation, water recycling, expanded storage, safe drinking water, wetlands and watershed restoration – and the passage of Proposition 1, we can take giant strides to secure California’s water future.”

The governor also pledged to work with all affected groups to ensure the package is implemented fairly.

About the Groundwater Sustainability Act

The legislative package establishes a definition of sustainable groundwater management and requires local agencies to adopt management plans for the state’s most important groundwater basins. It prioritizes groundwater basins that are currently overdrafted and sets a timeline for implementation:

  • By 2017, local groundwater sustainability agencies must be formed;
  • By 2020, overdrafted groundwater basins must have sustainability plans in place;
  • By 2022, other high and medium priority basins not currently in overdraft must have sustainability plans in place; and
  • By 2040, all high and medium priority groundwater basins must achieve sustainability.

Additionally, the legislation grants broad management authorities to groundwater sustainability agencies and provides tools that local agencies may use to achieve sustainability goals.

It also identifies measurable objectives and milestones to reach sustainability and a state role of limited intervention when local agencies are unable or unwilling to adopt sustainable management plans.

Watch for a summary of the groundwater legislation in the Sept. 19 issue of ACWA News.

Members with questions about the groundwater legislation may contact ACWA Senior Legislative Advocate Whitnie Wiley at or call 916-441-4545.

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