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Pending bills would alter local water landscape

By John Ricker, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 9/7/14

Last week, the California Legislature passed a three-bill package that would establish the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act to address overuse of California's groundwater basins. The governor is expected to sign these bills, which will require at-risk groundwater basins to be locally managed with a groundwater sustainability plan designed to achieve basin sustainability by 2040.

The act directs local agencies to create and implement plans to stop depletion of groundwater. Plans must include monitoring and management over a 50-year horizon and include measurable objectives that will be reviewed by the state every five years.

The act also directs local authority to limit or curtail groundwater extraction, monitor water withdrawals, and track the location of wells. Small domestic wells are exempt from any metering requirements. Local agencies will be authorized to assess regulatory fees to fund groundwater management and replenishment.

Local groundwater sustainability agencies must be formed no later than Jan. 1, 2017. For basins identified as medium-or-high priority with critical conditions of overdraft, sustainability plans must be adopted by Jan. 1, 2020.

The act authorizes the state to intervene and take over control when local agencies do not act.

With most of the groundwater aquifers in Santa Cruz County in overdraft, this new legislation will provide significant additional authority to bolster ongoing management efforts.

Groundwater management plans already exist for the Mid-County, Scotts Valley and Pajaro Valley areas. While the Pajaro Valley is already in compliance with most of the act's provisions, management plans and implementation efforts in Scotts Valley and Mid-County will need to significantly expanded and strengthened.

The county, and Soquel Creek and Central water districts have already been holding a series of meetings to engage Mid-County groundwater users. The next meeting will be 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, and will focus on this new law. The meeting is open to the public and will be held in the Soquel Congregational Church community room, 4951 Soquel Drive. Visit www.soquelcreekwater.org for details.

John Ricker is water resources division director for Santa Cruz County.

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