Monterey County Begins Compliance with California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act for Overdrafted Basins

Monterey County, CA, officials have begun a move that will balance groundwater basins in Salinas Valley, after facing a state mandate to meet this goal over the next 20 years.

The county’s Board of Supervisors and water resources agency urged county staff in a meeting to develop a proposal for the establishment of a local groundwater agency and a sustainability plan for the next few years.

The proposal will be reviewed by the county water board by next month, before receiving final direction from the Board of Supervisors in early December.

Groundwater comprises 95% of available fresh water for the United States, including for agricultural use, with around 50% of U.S. residents getting their drinking water from these resources. Because the Salinas Valley well has overpumped, or overdrafted, the Salinas River for several years, many in the region’s agriculture sector called these actions unsustainable back in September.

The push for the proposal comes from California’s recently adopted Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, signed into law last month by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The act states that local communities with vulnerable groundwater supplies must have a local agency for sustainability by mid-2017, formed either from an existing agency or a brand new one. That agency must have a solid groundwater sustainability plan no later than 2022 to assure long-term water supply and quality, or else the state takes over.

Some state officials are wary of the act’s potential costs, as the state does not provide funding for these projects.

Supervisor Simon Salinas, who represents the Salinas Valley, said the focus is on meeting the act’s requirements by the deadline in order to maintain control of local water supplies.

The legislation only targets water basins of high or medium priority rather than all of the state’s groundwater supply. Salinas Valley, Carmel, and Pajaro basins are affected by the legislation.

The Carmel basin will be taken over by the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, and the Pajaro basin’s lead agency is the Pajaro Valley Water Management District.

In the Salinas Valley, however, no agency has yet been chosen as of yet. When one is chosen, it will have the ability to adopt rules and regulations, conduct investigations, levy fines and impose taxes, regulate and suspend groundwater extractions, and build new and expanded wells, according to a report from Chief Assistant County Counsel Les Girard.

Groundwater plans must have measurable objectives, including five-year milestones, and provisions to monitor and manage groundwater levels and quality. The plans must include descriptions of monitoring systems and plans for halting overdraft seawater intrusion, among other criteria.

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