What is State Intervention?

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) recognizes that groundwater management is generally most effective at the local level. SGMA requires local agencies in high- or medium-priority basins, as designated by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), to form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs). The GSAs, made up of one or more local agencies overlying a groundwater basin, are required to develop and implement Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) that outline how long-term sustainable management of their basins will be achieved within 20 years of implementation of the plans.

To ensure groundwater resources are sustainably managed, SGMA gives the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) authority to protect groundwater resources through a process called “state intervention” when local agencies are unable or unwilling to sustainably manage their groundwater basins. State intervention is additional to local management and is intended to be temporary: lasting only until local agencies demonstrate that they are ready to adequately manage their respective basins.

The two lead state agencies in SGMA implementation are DWR, which is a state department in the California Natural Resources Agency, and the State Water Resources Control Board, which is an independent board within the California Environmental Protection Agency. DWR provides regulatory oversight by assessing and evaluating Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs). The Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) are required to submit their GSPs to DWR. If during the GSP assessment and evaluation process, DWR determines that the plan is inadequate (fails the plan) in a basin, state intervention by the State Water Board is triggered.

State intervention is a process that could result in the State Water Board temporarily managing and protecting groundwater resources until local agencies are able and willing to do so adequately. There are several steps to the intervention process. An overview is provided below.

State Intervention Resources

State intervention is triggered by one of the following events:

Effective Date Triggering Event
July 1, 2017
Entire basin is not covered by a GSA(s) or an alternative to a GSP
Jan 31, 2020
Basin is in critical overdraft and there is no plan or DWR fails GSP
Jan 31, 2022
No plan in the basin or DWR fails GSP or GSP implementation AND basin is in long-term overdraft
Jan 31, 2025
DWR fails GSP or GSP implementation AND basin has significant surface water depletions (if no long-term overdraft)

Note: DWR = Department of Water Resources. GSA = Local Groundwater Sustainability Agency. GSP = Groundwater Sustainability Plan

Avoiding State Intervention

If DWR finds that the GSP(s) covering a basin are incomplete during their initial assessment and evaluation of the plans, DWR provides an additional 180 days for the GSA(s) to cure any deficiencies. DWR works with GSAs during this time to explain the issues that preclude the GSP from approval. After the GSP(s) are resubmitted, DWR then reviews the GSP(s) again and, if the deficiencies still are not cured, DWR will find the GSP(s) inadequate and intervention by the State Water Board is triggered.

State Intervention Process Overview

After state intervention is triggered in a groundwater basin, the next step is for the State Water Board to consider making a probationary determination of the basin. This is done using a public process that includes a public hearing. If the State Water Board designates a basin as “probationary,” a term used in the SGMA law, during the probationary period, GSAs have time to address the issues (deficiencies) that caused the basin to go into probation.

During the probationary period, the State Water Board will focus on data collection and analysis to better understand what management challenges are occurring in the basin. To acquire the necessary data, the State Water Board can require extractors install meters so extractors can measure and report their groundwater extractions accurately, or the State Water Board can specify other means for measuring and reporting groundwater extractions.

For basins on probation, SGMA requires that well owners file online annual groundwater extraction reports (most small domestic well owners will likely be exempt). The State Water Board will notify well owners and landowners of their extraction reporting requirements and associated filing fees. Fees are required because Water Code section 1529.5 directs the State Water Board to recover the costs of state intervention activities. For more information on groundwater extraction reporting and filing fees, visit the Reporting and Fees webpage and the State Water Board's SGMA fee regulations.

If the issues that caused the basin to be deemed probationary are not addressed during the probationary period, the State Water Board may begin another public process to determine whether or not to develop and implement an interim plan for the basin. Importantly, an interim plan cannot be implemented until the GSAs in a probationary basin are allowed at least one year to correct their deficiencies. If the State Water Board adopts an interim plan, the Board would temporarily manage groundwater in the basin until the local agencies could demonstrate their ability to manage the basin sustainably and resume management.

Visit the Probationary Designation and Groundwater Regulation by the State Water Board (PDF) fact sheet for more information.

Levels of State Intervention

  • Umanaged Area
    An unmanaged area is a part of a groundwater basin that was not within the management area of a GSA by July 1, 2017, or became unmanaged after that date when a GSA withdrew. A well owner that extracts or pumps groundwater from an unmanaged area is required to submit a groundwater extraction report to the State Water Board each year. A well owner who extracts two acre‐feet or less of groundwater per year (an acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land in one foot of water) from a parcel of land for domestic purposes only is a de minimis user of groundwater. De minimis users are exempt from annual groundwater extraction reporting in unmanaged areas. For more information on groundwater extraction reporting and filing fees, visit Reporting and Fees website.
  • Probationary Basin
    If local agencies fail to form a GSA, fail to develop an adequate GSP, or fail to implement the plan successfully in a groundwater basin, the State Water Board may designate the entire basin probationary after providing notice and holding a public hearing. A probationary designation will identify the deficiencies that led to state intervention and potential actions to remedy the deficiencies. Any well owner who extracts or pumps groundwater from a probationary basin must file an annual groundwater extraction report with the State Water Board unless the State Water Board decides to exclude certain types of groundwater extractions. The State Water Board may require the use of a meter to measure groundwater extractions and the reporting of additional information. Groundwater users who pump two acre-feet or less per year for their own domestic use (i.e., indoor and outdoor residential use) may be exempt from reporting in probationary basins, but this will be determined for each individual basin at a State Water Board public hearing. The SGMA law calls such small domestic well owners “de minimis” users. However, the State Water Board can require reporting by de minimis users in probationary basins if collectively they make up a significant amount of the groundwater pumping and their reporting is necessary to sustainably manage the basin. Landowners will be notified by the State Water Board of the requirement to report extractions annually. For information about groundwater basins under state intervention and actions taken by the State Water Board visit Groundwater Basins.
  • Interim Plan
    An interim plan is intended to be a temporary measure to protect groundwater until effective local management is in place. The State Water Board will allow local agencies a limited amount of time to fix the deficiencies in their basin that led to a probationary designation before developing an interim plan to manage groundwater. An interim plan will contain corrective actions, a timeline, and a monitoring plan to ensure corrective actions are working. The State Water Board will adopt the interim plan through a public hearing process, similar to the probationary designation public process.

Ending State Intervention

To end State Water Board management of a groundwater basin, GSAs in that basin will have to demonstrate to the State Water Board (in consultation with DWR) their ability and willingness to manage groundwater sustainably and address the issues that caused state intervention to occur. This may require changes to the GSPs, revision of coordination agreements among the GSAs, pumping restrictions, or other measures to provide assurances that ongoing local management will be effective.

Contact Us

If you have questions, please contact us at 916-322-6508 or email at SGMA@waterboards.ca.gov.

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