Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)

In 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) into law. This law aims to improve groundwater management to ensure groundwater is a reliable source that is available long term. SGMA applies to areas in California with known groundwater challenges. These areas are known as critically over drafted basins or high- and medium-priority basins (see yellow and orange areas in map). Most of the San Joaquin Valley basins are in critical overdraft.

SGMA requires the formation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) – a new local agency or multiple agencies formed with authority and responsibility to sustainably manage their respective groundwater basin. A GSA’s key task is to prepare a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP), detailed roadmap for how groundwater basins will reach long-term groundwater sustainability. Once the plan is developed, GSAs have a twenty-year time frame to implement that plan and achieve sustainability by 2024.

Common groundwater uses include the provision of drinking water and household use through community water systems and domestic wells, crop irrigation, and industrial and commercial activity. Over the past decades, groundwater levels have declined due to a reduction of imported water into the area related to environmental preservation efforts, increased agricultural use, and increased municipal and industrial use, combined with less rain and snow runoff to replenish groundwater extraction causing a condition referred to as overdraft. This decline has become even more dramatic due to recent drought conditions.

The state’s most recent drought led to unprecedented increased groundwater pumping resulting in dry wells, fallowed cropland, and vulnerable environmental conditions throughout the state. Historically, groundwater management has been voluntary in California. However, unless effective groundwater management is implemented, declining groundwater levels will continue to severely impact all San Joaquin Valley residents, including unincorporated rural communities who rely on groundwater.

GSAs & Disadvantaged Communities We Are Currently Assisting

Self-Help Enterprises is providing a multi-disciplinary technical assistance program to assist severely disadvantaged communities (SDACs) to engage in groundwater sustainability planning to become viable partners in regional groundwater projects. SHE is currently assisting SDACs located within the boundaries of the following Groundwater Water Sustainability Agencies (GSAs):

Kern Groundwater Authority Groundwater Sustainability Agency   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Kern River Groundwater Sustainability Agency   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Greater Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Mid-Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Eastern Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Chowchilla Water District Groundwater Sustainability Agency    //    Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Merced Irrigation-Urban Groundwater Sustainability Agency   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Merced Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Agency   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Turner Island Water District Groundwater Sustainability Agency 1

North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

North Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency    //    Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Kings River East Groundwater Sustainability Agency   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Westlands Water District Groundwater Sustainability Agency   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Alpaugh Irrigation District Groundwater Sustainability Agency   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Mid-Kings River Groundwater Sustainability Agency

Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency Joint Powers Authority   //   Get to Know Your GSA Factsheet

Madera County Groundwater Sustainability Agency (Chowchilla, Madera and Delta-Mendota)

SDACs or GSAs seeking to serve SDACs within their boundaries, may request technical assistance by completing a simple one-page technical assistance request form below.

Technical Assistance (TA) Request Form

Self-Help Enterprises recently established a multi-disciplinary technical assistance (TA) program to assist Severely Disadvantaged Communities (SDACs) to engage in groundwater sustainability planning and become viable partners in projects that enhance groundwater quality and quantity.  Eligible Technical Assistance activities include but are not limited to outreach, education, facilitation, translation and procurement of Professional Services for planning and project development.

SDACs or GSAs seeking to serve SDACs within their boundaries, may request technical assistance by completing the technical assistance form below. If you would like to obtain technical assistance for your community or communities within your GSA, please contact Maria Herrera at or (559) 802-1676.


Technical Assistance Request Form

Technical Assistance Program Information

Solicitud de Asistencia Técnica

Información del Programa de Asistencia Técnica


Educational Videos

The sustainable management of groundwater is extremely important for the long-term prosperity of subbasins throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

This includes all the communities and industries it supports, but is especially important for disadvantaged communities that are largely reliant on groundwater for water supply and have very limited financial resources, making them particularly vulnerable to changes in groundwater levels and quality resulting from groundwater management actions.

The “Rural Communiteis and the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)” video below, informs SDAC residents of the importance of getting involved in groundwater planning to ensure those on private wells and small water systems have enough water for their needs.


Additionally, the “SGMA and Groundwater Users Working Together” video below focuses on the importance of stakeholders working together to implement SGMA.


The videos above are also available in Spanish:


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Past Events

Groundwater Sustainability Plan Workshop

On October 27, 2018, Self-Help Enterprises, in conjunction with Leadership Counsel for Accountability and Justice, Community Water Center, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, hosted a Groundwater Sustainability Plan workshop in Visalia. As part of a continuing Groundwater Sustainability Planning Workshop Series, the workshops invited community members to take part in presentations and interactive exercises to demonstrate how Groundwater Sustainability Agencies develop water budgets, understand results, and manage projects. Below is a recap of the workshop and links to workshop materials.


Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Overview and Groundwater Sustainability Plan Development (Adriana Renteria, Community Water Center)

For this discussion, Adriana Renteria from the Community Water Center gave an overview of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and what it requires local agencies to do in medium- and high-priority sub-basins. First, it requires local water and land use agencies to form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs). The GSAs must then develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) to manage groundwater sustainability in their sub-basin, and implement that plan to reach sustainability within 20 years. Adriana also reviewed the specific requirements for what each GSP must contain.

Please see Adriana’s slides here for more information.

Water Budget (Alyssa DeVincentis, University of California, Davis)

Next, Alyssa DeVincentis from the University of California, Davis, a technical expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ scientist network, gave a presentation about water budgets, an important first step that Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) must take in developing their Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs). Water budgets help GSAs determine how much groundwater their sub-basin currently has, how much groundwater they are currently using, and how their groundwater supplies will be impacted if they continue to use groundwater in the same way, or implement projects and management actions to change their groundwater usage. Alyssa went through the various types of information that consultants and GSA staff should provide when presenting their water budget. We then did an exercise comparing a good water budget presentation with a bad water budget presentation, noting what information was lacking and what questions to ask consultants about the water budget.

See Alyssa’s slides and the water budget exercise here.

Undesirable Results (Maria Herrera, Self-Help Enterprises)

Maria Herrera from Self-Help Enterprises reviewed three important sustainable management criteria that are required to be defined by each Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) in its Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP): Undesirable Results, Minimum Thresholds, and Measurable Objectives.  SGMA requires that each GSA define the six “undesirable results” set out in SGMA: depletion of groundwater levels, decreased groundwater storage, groundwater contamination, depletion of surface water from groundwater depletion, land subsidence, and seawater intrusion. To do this, they must determine what they consider to be “significant and unreasonable” negative impacts in each of these six areas. In the Central Valley, we are not at risk of seawater intrusion because we are not near the ocean. Each GSA must determine how much of a negative impact it will allow before it considers the groundwater level depletion, groundwater storage depletion, land subsidence, or surface water depletion in its sub-basin to be “significant and unreasonable.” It has to then establish specific and quantifiable measures for each of these undesirable results by setting a Minimum Threshold beyond which it will not allow its sub-basin to go. It will set a Measurable Objective for each undesirable result as well, as incremental goals to improve its performance on combating each of these undesirable results.

After Maria’s presentation, we divided up into groups for a group exercise. Each member of each group was given a role to play, so each group had a wide variety of stakeholder interests represented. We discussed which of the undesirable results were most important to avoid for our group, suggested which undesirable results were most important to address right away, and during the next 20 years.

Maria’s presentation can be found here.

The handouts for the presentation can be found here.

Projects and Management Actions (Amanda Monaco, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability and Adriana Renteria, Community Water Center)

Our last presentation explored the wide variety of projects and management actions that Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) could use to comply with minimum thresholds and measurable objectives in order to avoid undesirable results. Amanda Monaco from Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability reviewed groundwater recharge projects, surface water import projects, crop conversion, and many other projects that could be used to conserve groundwater and put more groundwater into the ground. Adriana Renteria from Community Water Center then spoke about groundwater markets, and the potential benefits and costs of these types of complex projects.

We then again divided into groups for a group exercise, and were given a role as a specific type of stakeholder. We simulated that we were on a stakeholder committee for the “Sun Valley GSA,” a fictitious GSA, and had to choose which projects and management actions our GSA basin was going to implement in order to decrease its groundwater use by 150,000 acre-feet, in order to comply with its sustainability goal. We were given a list of projects that would each contribute to our goal, but that would each have different impacts on different types of stakeholders. Acting according to the interests of the stakeholder role we were each assigned, our groups entered into heated, creative and sometimes comical discussions to find common ground and determine which projects and management actions suited all of our needs best. Each group reached creative and well-thought-out consensus about which projects and management actions were best for our sub-basin.

Find Amanda’s presentation about projects and management actions here.

Find the materials from the projects and management actions exercise here.


How to Get Involved

Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) are currently in the process of developing their Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).

There are several ways to get involved:

  • Find your GSA at Select the “GSA Map Viewer” and enter your address in the search bar. Click on the blue pinpoint to reveal information about your GSA.
  • Put your name on the “interested parties” list. Contact your GSA to be added to the list. You will receive information about meetings and the planning progress.
  • Attend public meetings. Public meetings are opportunities to share your vision for sustainability and ask questions. This can help shape the planning process.
  • Join an advisory committee. Advisory committees, like technical advisory committees or stakeholder outreach committees are part of most GSAs, and have influence on the GSP development. Ask your GSA what working groups they have to discuss details of the plan.
  • Obtain technical assistance from local organizations. Support may be obtained from local organizations like Self-Help Enterprises who support community participation in groundwater sustainability planning.
  • Visit your local GSA’s website. Your GSA’s website will house critical information and updates.
  • After the GSP is submitted, stay engaged. GSAs are required to prepare annual reports. Every five years the state will evaluate the progress of a region towards the achievement of sustainability and can intervene if significant deficiencies are identified. Stay updated on the progress toward your GSA’s sustainability goals.


SGMA Resources

SGMA Brochure

Folleto de SGMA

Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Process & Development

Plan de Sostenibilidad de Agua Subterránea: Proceso & Desarrollo

Human Right to Water Scorecard

Working Towards Thresholds that are Protective of Community Water Supplies

Trabajando Hacia Umbrales que son Protectores de Suministros de Agua Comunitarios

Tips and Talking Points for Community Participation

Consejos y Puntos para la Participación Comunitaria

Framework for a Drinking Water Well Impact Mitigation Program

Drinking Water Well Mitigation Plan Case Studies

Marco de Referencia para Desarrollar un Programa de Mitigacion de Impacto para Pozo de Agua Potable

Estudios de Caso del Plan de Mitigación de Pozos de Agua Potable

Getting Involved in Groundwater Guide (developed by the Union of Concerned Scientists)

Manual de Manejo de Aguas Subterráneas (desarrollado por Union of Concerned Scientists)

Measuring What Matters Report (developed by the Union of Concerned Scientists)

Troubled Waters: Preparing for Climate Threats to California’s Water System (developed by the Union of Concerned Scientists)

Climate Change in the San Joaquin Valley: A Household and Community Guide to Taking Action (developed by the Union of Concerned Scientists)

Cambio Climático en el Valley de San Joaquín: Una Guía para Tomar Medidas en el Hogar y las Communidades (desarrollado por Union of Concerned Scientists)

Groundwater Management and Safe Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley (developed by The Water Foundation)

Groundwater Constituent Impacts and Trends in Domestic Wells and Public Water Systems in California (developed by The Water Foundation)

Summary Analysis of 31 Groundwater Sustainability Plans in Critically Overdrafted Basins (developed by the Groundwater Leadership Forum)

SGMA and the Human Right to Water (developed by Kristin Dobbin at the University of California, Davis)

SGMA y el Derecho Humano al Agua (desarrollado por Kristin Dobbin en la Universidad de California, Davis)

How to Comment on Groundwater Sustainability Plans (developed by the Department of Water Resources)

Cómo Comentar Sobre un Plan de Sostenibilidad de las Aguas Subterráneas (desarrollado por el Departamento de Recursos Hídricos)

CaliWaterAg Water and Land Use Video Series – English

CaliWaterAg Water and Land Use Video Series – Spanish

CaliWaterAg Water and Land Use Video Series – Hmong



Critically Overdrafted Basin: A groundwater basin in which the continuation of present practices of withdrawing water would likely results in significant negative environmental, social, or economic impacts.

Groundwater Basin: an alluvial aquifer or a stacked series of alluvial aquifers with reasonably well-defined boundaries in a lateral direction and having a definable bottom.

Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA): A local water authority, or cooperating collection of local authorities,
managing a basin’s shared resources under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) to develop and execute a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).

Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP): A detailed road map for how groundwater basins will reach long term

Overdraft: A situation that occurs when more water is pumped from a groundwater basin than is replaced from all sources, not measured annually but rather over a period of years.

Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA): Law that aims to improve groundwater management to ensure groundwater is a reliable source that is available long term.

Sustainable Yield: The maximum quantity of water that can be withdrawn annually from a groundwater supply without causing undesirable results.

Sustainability Goal: The objective of operating a basin within its sustainable yield.

Undesirable Results: One of six groundwater conditions that must be avoided in order to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA): 1) significant and unreasonable reduction of groundwater storage, 2) significant and unreasonable lowering of groundwater levels, 3) significant and unreasonable seawater intrusion, 4) significant and unreasonable degraded water quality, 5) significant and unreasonable land subsidence, and 6) unreasonable depletions of interconnected surface water.


Contact Us

Self-Help Enterprises
Community Engagement and Planning

Angela Islas
Community Development Specialist
(559) 802-1613

Sonia Sanchez
Community Development Specialist
(559) 802-1689


Funding for this project has been provided in full or in part from the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 and through an agreement with the State Department of Water Resources.