SGMA Policy Analysis


The state of California would not have achieved its current powerhouse status in the absence of groundwater. The Southern California part is most affected as it is riddled with a semi-arid climate that does not provide enough rainwater. Consequently, the state has depended on the drilling of underground water resources in supporting the agricultural sector as well as urban development. In addition, although most of the water is produced in North California, a huge chunk of the water is used in Southern California where most of the families live. About 45% of the water used in California is sourced from groundwater with the percentage increasing significantly during dry years (Weatherford et al., 2009). Normally, the state is faced with drought resulting into the strapping of river and creek reservoirs. Communities in the South are mostly reliant on groundwater for the sustenance of their subsistence livelihoods. This overreliance on groundwater has its share of negative implications especially regarding management of groundwater resources. The development of more efficient machinery compounded the state to the faster extraction of water resulting in the sinking and subsiding of the ground. Following these problems of non-sustainability, the state developed regulations to monitor and guide the extraction of groundwater in Southern California. The goal of this policy was to reduce the overreliance on groundwater thus safeguard the lives of millions of people that were in danger of calamities.

Following the unsustainable extraction of groundwater resources in Southern California, the state developed the SGM Act to tackle the problem. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) of 2014 is designed to regulate the extraction and recharge of underground water in California. Its enactment was motivated by reports that the state had lost enough water to fill a lake between 2004 and 2009 (Hanak, 2011). The intention of the policy is to develop and implement local and regional sustainable groundwater plans. In addition, the state is required to adopt an interim groundwater management plan to guide the development and implementation of both local and regional agencies. The implementation of the Act follows the presumption that water management is best achieved locally. This paper undertakes to review existing literature in understanding the problem as well as the policy proposed to solve the problem. Also, it will explore the motives of the enactment and implementation processes while expounding on the particular impacts on the normal livelihoods of the people of Southern California. Ultimately, the nexus between the problem and the policy is identified with a focus on the success of the policy in addressing the cited problems. Finally, recommendations for further improvement are provided based on the findings of the review.


Problem Analysis

Southern California faces the problem of unsustainable extraction of water within the different counties, cities and districts. Consequently, every county has different water requirements and the extraction of groundwater is, therefore, dependent on the reservoirs as well as the water requirements.  The problem of drought within Southern California is also a problem that has affected the state’s water extraction. During droughts, the overreliance on groundwater is increased thus resulting in sinking and subsiding of different parts of the state. It has been estimated that groundwater currently serves 65% of the state’s water problems. Prior to the enactment of the Act, the state had no control over the extraction of groundwater resulting in the over extraction of the resource. The result of this over-exploitation is a sinking state as evidenced by the Central Valley. One farmer within this area has recorded a sinking rate of about 18 inches in one year to fill the drained aquifers. Over drafting of underground water has increased steadily over the years with a total of 2200000-acre feet over drafted in 1999 (Harou & Lund, 2008). In the subsequent years, the rate of overdraft has increased significantly and is termed as highly unsustainable.

The problem of groundwater over-drafting has particular cost implications on the society as well as the state’s financial ability. The lack of enough water has resulted in the death of families through droughts as well as low agricultural production thus resulting in poor livelihoods. The situation is much worse in the South where most of the people live resulting in lower economic development. In addition, the problems have also resulted into environmental degradation through the subsiding and sinking of large chunks of land in South California. For instance, farmers have recorded sinking of up to 25 inches in a year thus contributing to the loss of arable land. The complexity of the problem means that it is not only farmers that suffer from the situation but the entire society. The reduction in arable land means that there is a lower supply of food in the state resulting in occasional hunger and drought. Consequently, people are bound to become malnourished leading to higher vulnerability to diseases. The cost of the problem cannot financially be quantified as it is all-encompassing (Shah et al., 2000) and affects a myriad of sectors within the wider California state. That notwithstanding, the area of Southern California is most affected and suffers the most costs from the problem of underground water.

Policy Description

Despite the challenges faced by the community due to the problem of ground water, its solution is highly tenable. In fact, part of the solution to this problem lies in the full implementation of the SGM Act of 2014. The realization that water regulation and control is best attained at the local level is an important starting point for the state. The source of the problem can be traced to decades ago when the extraction of ground water proliferated in the state. The result is that groundwater was misconceived to be sustainable resulting in over-drafting of the resource. The absence of a comprehensive regulatory framework also contributed to the problem as groundwater drilling was done by anyone. Consequently, the need for water superseded any security and safety measure resulting in a myriad of problems. Today, California is considered a sinking state due to the large scale extraction of underground water conducted in the past. Although the extraction of groundwater is conducted by the private sector, the resultant problems can only be addressed by the government. However, the solution to the problem is a long process that cannot be conducted within a short period of time. Rather, the implementation of the policy over many years will result in sustainability in underground water extraction and utilization.

Prior to the implementation of the SGM Act of 2014, groundwater extraction was managed by regions and was under no strict control from the state (Lund & Harter, 2013). However, following the enactment of the Act, local and regional agencies are required to come up with water management plans for their respective regions. The main goal of the policy is to manage the sustainable extraction of groundwater to the benefit of the people of California. In particular, high priority and medium priority regions are required to adopt sustainability plans for proper groundwater management. It is expected that long-term sustainability of these basins will be achieved through sustainable management. The policy affects the state of California and has been developed by the state government of California. In addition, the implementation is conducted at the local and regional levels of the state under the supervision of the state of California. The difference between the levels developing the policy and the implementing level is based on the assumption that water management is best attained at the local level (Trelease, 1979). As such, each basin has different groundwater requirements and it is only fair that each region determines its sustainability level. However, the monitoring of this process is conducted at the state level.

The development of any policy is dependent on interaction with different stakeholders to ensure it is implementable. In the case of the SGM Act, different stakeholders were involved in the drafting of the policy thus harnessing the different views of the stakeholders. In particular, public participation was highly undertaken involving water experts and the general public. Views from different experts were incorporated into the final drafting of the Act thus resulting in an all-encompassing legislation. The success of the Act in groundwater management is testament to the high level of involvement undertaken by different stakeholders (Lund et al., 2016). The main beneficiaries of the policy are the people of California and their involvement in the drafting of the policy was achieved through public participation meetings. In particular, the views of people from Southern California were incorporated in the policy through weekly meetings prior to its enactment. The policy also impacts on the different water companies in the state as they have to follow the regulations laid out in the policy. Most specifically, all water companies have to act within the groundwater sustainability plans designed for the respective water basins.

Policy Implementation

The SGM Act follows an intricate and complex process of implementation that encompasses the views of different stakeholders. In essence, each water basin has a water agency responsible for the development of sustainability plans and overseeing the actual implementation of the plans. Although the policy is not as strict as other government regulations, it follows strict instruments including prosecution powers and fines. Indeed, any violation against the regulations are punishable in a court of law and entities risk imminent bans from the state following continuous violations of the regulations. The main implementing organ is the Department of Water Resources (DWR) which designates the basins according to different priorities. Basins designated as high- or medium-priority are required to adopt groundwater sustainability plans as designed by the respective agencies. The act requires the creation of groundwater sustainability agencies with a timeline of 20 years to attain sustainability of their respective regions (Lund et al., 2016). Tools of implementation include the groundwater sustainability agencies as well as investigations and measures to effect the desired changes. In addition, the SGMA may include the tools of limiting water extraction or impose fees for groundwater management in defining its GSPs. Still, the agency may use the instruments of prosecution and fines in ensuring compliance with the regulations of the Act.

The problem of bureaucracy affects the implementation of policies across the world, and the SGMA is no exception. Quite often, bureaucracy affects the implementation of policies through self-interests and long processes. Any government has its fair share of interests in a certain policy, and the process of implementation can either be fast tracked or slowed down to honor the interest. In particular, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was under immense pressure from the government resulting in the slow implementation process. For instance, the process of attaining licenses as stipulated by the policy is quite long and requires that due process be followed thus resulting in delays. Up until now, some of the provisions in the policy have not been implemented, and some of the agencies are pot up to date in terms of implementation. In the end, the implementation of the Act is a costly exercise that necessitates huge resource allocations to guarantee success.  Although the exact cost of implementation cannot be ascertained through figures, its continuity over long periods of time requires high resource utilization.



Although the policy is relatively new, it has particular implications on the general economy of the state of California. The people of Southern California have benefitted a great deal from the implementation of the policy over the last one year. The new policy is highly effective in the management of groundwater utilization and is different from past years when groundwater was not regulated in any way. Today, the objective of expanding groundwater storage capacity has been achieved by more than 1.5 million cubic meters. The agricultural sector which supports a large proportion of Southern California is particularly impacted positively through local groundwater management (Lund & Harter, 2013). Essentially, the results of the policy can be seen in the increased efficiency of groundwater utilization within the state. According to Lund et al., (2016) there has been an increase of 25% in the number of farmers accessing groundwater following one-year implementation of the policy. However, the policy has faced different challenges including the implementation of the sustainability plans. In addition, the policy does not guarantee improved water quality for the citizens but is only concerned with the efficient usage of the available groundwater. Another limitation in the policy is the fact that the agencies established have no prosecution powers and must depend on other instruments to implement the provisions. The policy should thus attract other complementary policies to ensure its successful implementation. This recommendation has the advantage of ensuring total and full implementation of the policy and may contribute to the realization of the benefits intended in the policy.



The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 is an important policy in Southern California. The people of this region have benefitted greatly from its implementation since 2015 through increased efficiency in groundwater extraction and utilization. Currently, the problems associated with groundwater exploitation are no longer a problem within the state owing to the successful implementation of the policy. In essence, the policy was an important tool in overturning the problems of ground sinking and droughts occasioned by over extraction of ground water in the past. Today, the Act is effectively tackling the problems of groundwater in an area that had the worst statistics of drought in the country. Although the Act had its fair share of limitations, they are largely based on the implementation, and effective changes can rightly address the challenges.



Hanak, E. (2011). Managing California’s water: from conflict to reconciliation. Public Policy Instit. of CA.

Harou, J. J., & Lund, J. R. (2008). Ending groundwater overdraft in hydrologic-economic systems. Hydrogeology Journal, 16(6), 1039-1055.

Lund, J. R., & Harter, T. (2013). California’s groundwater problems and prospects. CaliforniaWaterBlog. com.

Lund, J., Medellín-Azuara, J., & Harter, T. (2016). Why California’s agriculture needs groundwater management. CaliforniaWaterBlog. com, May, 26, 2014.

Rittel, W.J. & Webber, M.M. (1973). Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.  Policy   Sciences, 4 155-169.

Shah, T., Molden, D., Sakthivadivel, R., & Seckler, D. (2000). Groundwater: Overview of opportunities and challenges. IWMI.

Trelease, F. J. (2001). Legal Solutions to Groundwater Problems–A General Overview. Pac. LJ, 11, 863.

Weatherford, G., Malcolm, K., & Andrews, B. (2009). California Groundwater Management: The Sacred and the Profane. Nat. Resources J., 22, 1031.


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