Updated Groundwater Basin Priorities May Bring Regulation to North Bay Wine Counties

The 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires every groundwater basin in California ranked medium and high priority to be managed by one of more Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) pursuant to an adopted Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) or alternative plan.  The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) issued the initial groundwater basin prioritization in 2014.  In May 2018, DWR released draft updated basin priorities using revised basin boundaries, revised methodologies, and updated datasets and information, including well location, groundwater production, salinity intrusion and cropping information.  For the first time, the basin prioritization will consider whether groundwater production could adversely impact local habitats and local streamflows.

DWR will accept public comments on the draft 2018 SGMA Basin Prioritization Process and Results report through July 18, 2018.  DWR anticipates adopting the final prioritization in mid-October.  A useful web mapping program shows the 2018 draft prioritization, proposed changes from the 2014 to 2018 prioritization, and information specific to each basin.

DWR proposes upgrading 14 basins from low to medium or high priority, which would require election of GSAs within two years and adoption of GMPs within five years of final adoption of the revised priorities.  Five of the 14 basins include winegrape growing regions dependent on groundwater:

  • Alexander Valley, Alexander Area Subbasin in Sonoma County, which includes much of the Alexander Valley AVA and portions of the Chalk Hill AVA;
  • Santa Rosa Valley, Healdsburg Area Subbasin in Sonoma County, which includes portions of the Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley AVAs;
  • Wilson Grove Formation Highlands Basin in Sonoma County, which includes portions of the Green Valley, Russian River Valley, and Sonoma Coast AVAs;
  • Napa-Sonoma Valley, Napa-Sonoma Lowlands Subbasin in Napa County, which includes a portion of the Carneros AVA; and
  • Upper Lake Valley Basin in Lake County, which includes a portion of the Clear Lake AVA at the north end of Clear Lake.

Growers in these five basins are likely to experience very different compliance obligations if current SMGA compliance efforts for 2014-ranked basins in those counties are any guide.  Lake County has proposed that its existing groundwater management plan serve as an alternative to preparing new GSPs for the ranked medium priority basins in the County.  Napa County has proposed that no GSP is required for the one medium priority basin within the County pursuant to an analysis that the basin has operated within its sustainable yield.  In Sonoma County, the County, cities and other local agencies have formed new GSAs for each of the three medium priority basins within the County, and are evaluating costly fees to fund groundwater studies and preparation of GSPs.

DP&F will continue to track and report on SGMA developments affecting the wine industry and other clients.

For more information on this and other water issues, please contact Peter J. Kiel.

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Topics: Water Law