CA Claims Poor Conditions of its Groundwater Basins Should Lead to New Rules

Under the state’s new groundwater law, California’s wine country and beyond, has been targeted for more regulation. According to a May declaration, the state Department of Water Resources claimed that 14 of its groundwater basins throughout the state are at risk of overdraft and that under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SMGA), the basins should be reprioritized.

Four of these groundwater basins are in Napa and Sonoma counties. The locations of these aquifers include Sonoma Lowlands subbasin in Napa and Solano counties, the Alexander Valley basin and Healdsburg area subbasin in Sonoma County and the Wilson Grove Highlands basin in Sonoma and Marin Counties. Each of these water irrigation sources is vital to the production of grapes, which are an invaluable resource to the region’s livelihood.  

What are the Proposed Changes?

The Department of Water Resources has proposed to change the priority of these basins from “low” to “medium” priority. With their previous “low” ranking, the basins were considered to be in compliance with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. If the priority level increase is to be finalized in November, it will require each of the basins to form a groundwater sustainability agency within the next two years, and create and complete a sustainability plan within five. These plans would require each basin to reverse groundwater overdraft, potentially resulting in new water conservation rules. These basins may also demand plans that regard aquifers. The users of this groundwater will likely be required to pay fees in support of these efforts.

Some of the other groundwater basins located within the counties of Sonoma and Napa are already subject to these requirements. Once finalized, the rest of these basins will now confront costly groundwater regulations. It makes sense to increase the priority level of these basins, as they depend heavily upon groundwater to meet demands. A few of the groundwater basins in Sonoma County have already been ranked as “high” priority under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

However, the problem is that the increase in their priorities would cause numerous additional expenses. They would include selecting and seating a board, organizing meetings, hiring a part-time attorney and administrator, complying with the state’s open-meetings law, and developing the policies and procedures that are required of any government agency. Other potentially necessary tasks include the hiring of consultants to study the basins’ hydrology, hiring consultants to conduct a rate study to confirm how much each groundwater user should pay, installing new groundwater monitoring devices on private wells, and drilling new monitoring wells.

So far, it has budgeted $2.7 million for the startup processes of the three basins it has been working on, including a $1 million state grant for each of the first three basins. The new basins will also require a similar investment.

Still, two questions plague the future of groundwater here:

  1. What is the right path to sustainability?
  2. Who should pay for groundwater management?

Contact a Wine Law Attorney

It should prove interesting to see what should become of the these groundwater basins, and ultimately, the future of wine country. If you are considering starting a winery, it is important that you speak with a wine law attorney before doing so. At GM Law, PC, we can assist you with getting your wine business off the gord. Contact us today for more information.

Posted in: Wine Law