Groundwater Planning Underway on the Northcoast & Klamath Basin

Sierra Club North Group header logoIn valley and estuary basins across California, groundwater planning is getting underway for the first time.  Mandated by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), the planning should result in adoption of management plans by 2024 for Northcoast and Klamath groundwater basins stretching from Sonoma’s Santa Rosa Plain to the Smith River estuary, and from the mouth of Eel River to Klamath headwaters in Siskiyou County. While the plans are developed locally, they must conform to criteria set out in SGMA. State agencies will review local plans and, if they do not meet state-wide criteria, are supposed to step in and create SGMA-compliant groundwater plans.

Groundwater pumping for irrigation lowers the water table dewatering the Scott River near Fort Jones. Photo: Felice Pace.
Groundwater pumping for irrigation lowers the water table dewatering the Scott River near Fort Jones. Photo: Felice Pace.

SGMA mandates “sustainable groundwater management” defined as “management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results.” Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) developed to comply with SGMA are not subject to CEQA. However, the legislation stresses enhanced “outreach and communication” with diverse interests:

“The (local) groundwater sustainability agency shall encourage the active involvement of diverse social, cultural, and economic elements of the population within the groundwater basin prior to and during the development and implementation of the groundwater sustainability plan.”

Groundwater plans must avoid “undesirable results” of groundwater extraction which occur after January 1, 2015 including: significant and unreasonable seawater intrusion, degraded water quality, land subsidence, and reduction of groundwater storage; chronic lowering of groundwater levels;  and depletion of interconnected surface waters.

SGMA Shenanigans

If they desire, county governments can become the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) for groundwater basins within their borders, and most Northcoast and Klamath River Basin counties have chosen that option. Certain counties, however, have acted in ways that call into question their commitment to faithfully implement SGMA. For example, Napa and Humboldt Counties are attempting to get existing groundwater management plans that local activists say will not achieve sustainability accepted by the state as sufficient for SGMA compliance.

Of even greater concern are actions by the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors. Acting as a Flood Control and Water Conservation District, Siskiyou County’s Supervisors limited membership on Groundwater Advisory Committees to “water users with land ownership within the Basin’s boundaries” or “an authorized appointee of an irrigation district or public water service agency.”

Because groundwater extraction in the Scott and Shasta Basins directly impacts river flows, downstream federal tribes, fishing and environmental interests have a vital stake in groundwater plans developed for those basins. Nevertheless, the Siskiyou Supervisors are denying those interests a seat at the table. So far the Department of Water Resources has refused to make Siskiyou County comply with SGMA’s mandate for the effective involvement of diverse interests, setting the stage for likely future conflict.

As groundwater planning gets underway, it has become clear that achieving truly sustainable groundwater management will require citizen involvement. Fortunately, there is guidance available for citizens who choose to get involved:

The Union of Concerned Citizens’ Guide to California’s Groundwater Sustainability Plans is available in English and Spanish at

The USGS has excellent information on “sustainability indicators” at

•  DWR provides access to plan submissions, comments and lots more for each basins where a SGMA plan must be developed at

• The Nature Conservancy has guidance on Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems which SGMA says must be protected at

• County government SGMA pages. Sonoma County’s is exemplary:

If you’d like to get involved in North Coast or Klamath River Basin groundwater planning, or if you want to learn more, call Felice at 707-954-6588.


One need not be a Sierra Club member to participate in these outings. Please join us!

Saturday, April 21—North Group South Fork Trinity River (off Highway 299) Hike. Breathtaking vistas of the river’s gorge. Trekking poles will be a plus. Expect an abundance of wildflowers and songbirds. No dogs. Bring water, lunch, sun/cold protection, and good footwear.We will cross a couple of small tributary streams and deadfall trees. Medium difficulty, 7.5 miles, less than 1,000 feet elevation change. Carpools: Meet 8:30 a.m. at Ray’s shopping center, Valley West. Leader Ned,, or 707-825-3652. Heavy rain cancels.

Sunday, May 13—North Group Titlow Hill 5’n’10 Six Rivers NF Hike. From Forest Road 1, hike to Road 5N10 on an old logging spur, counterclockwise across Enquist Creek, then hike south to Cold Spring and return. Experience large ancient trees, mountain meadows, two water holes, and long views. No dogs. Bring lunch, water, and protection from the sun or other mountain weather. Medium difficulty, 6.5 miles, less than 1,000 feet elevation change. Carpools: meet 9 a.m. Valley West (Ray’s) Shopping Center. Leader Ned,, 707-825-3652. Heavy rain cancels.

Please Join Us!

The North Group’s Executive Committee meets on the second Tuesday of each month in the first floor conference room at the Adorni Center on the waterfront in Eureka.  The meeting, which covers regular business and conservation issues, begins at 6:45 PM. Members and non-members with environmental concerns are encouraged to attend. When a new person comes to us with an environmental issue or concern, we often place them first or early on the agenda.



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