Statewide, agencies are being formed to provide for local, collaborative, and sustainable groundwater management in accordance with the State of California's 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
California's groundwater provides approximately half of the state's water supply, and in some parts of Santa Barbara County (County), is the sole source of water to sustain agriculture and domestic uses. In other areas of the County, groundwater is an integral part of multi-source water supply portfolios and is critical in times of prolonged drought. Unlike surface supplies, groundwater aquifers are not subject to losses such as evaporation and spill.
Many California aquifers are adversely impacted by overuse. Such impacts include significant decline in water storage and water levels, degradation of water quality, and land subsidence resulting in the permanent loss of storage capacity. Recognizing the importance of groundwater and the consequences of overuse, Governor Edmund Gerald Brown Jr. signed into law a package of bills addressing the sustainable management of groundwater in California. Collectively, these bills are the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
SGMA took effect on January 1, 2015, and requires all groundwater basins designated as medium or high priority by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to be sustainably managed by the year 2042. DWR's designation is based on several factors, including population, number of wells, irrigated area, and groundwater conditions.
Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA)
SGMA encourages the formation of local groundwater sustainability agencies for the purpose of implementing the SGMA requirements. Groundwater sustainability agencies can consist of a local agency or combination of agencies that have water supply, water management, or land use responsibilities in the basin. SGMA empowers groundwater sustainability agencies with certain financial, regulatory, and enforcement abilities but does not allow them to determine water rights.
Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSP)
The role of the GSA is to develop and implement a local or regional Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Groundwater Sustainability Plans must result in "sustainable conditions" in the basin, which are defined by SGMA as the avoidance of significant negative impacts, such as: chronic overdraft, worsening water quality, surface water depletions, sea water intrusion (in coastal basins), and land subsidence. Groundwater Sustainability Plans require detailed technical information to define the basin and aquifer conditions, including historic and current water supply and use, water quality conditions, and projected water demands. Plans must also include measurable objectives and interim milestones to meet on the way to achieving sustainability within 20 years.
- Montecito Groundwater Basin is designated "Medium Priority" by the State of California's Department of Water Resources, and is thereby required to comply with SGMA.
- Pursuant to SGMA, the Montecito Groundwater Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) was formed in 2018 to develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).