This blog post was co-authored by Stoel Rives attorneys Wes Miliband and Eric Skanchy.

Under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”), California’s landmark groundwater legislation, local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (“GSAs”) must be formed to assess conditions in their local water basins and to develop locally-based groundwater sustainability plans (“GSPs”).

GSAs, which must be formed by June 30, 2017, will have the ability to register and monitor wells and to potentially restrict pumping and prevent drilling of new wells. GSAs will also have the ability to assess new fees and taxes. These local agencies will be in the driver’s seat when it comes to addressing a very complex problem seen in many areas of California: managing groundwater to ensure long-term sustainability of groundwater supplies.

Given the influence these GSAs will have, it is not surprising that various interest groups and stakeholders covet a seat at the table. This was not lost on wine industry representatives in Sonoma County, who petitioned the County to give the industry voting power on the yet-to-be-formed GSAs.

Under the proposal from the Water Agency, cities, water districts, resource conservation districts and the County would appoint members from within their ranks to the GSAs. On its website, the County has provided a list of GSA-eligible entities. Interest groups would be able to offer recommendations to the GSAs but would not have voting power. Three separate regulatory bodies, one each to oversee groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley, will likely be formed.

County Supervisors expressed concern about not giving interest groups voting power, but ultimately voiced support for the Water Agency’s recommendation to only give voting power to public entities. County officials reasoned that by limiting the seats on the GSAs to only public officials, the GSAs would be directly accountable not only to the residential well owners, but also to the various interest groups from agriculture and beyond.

This latest development signals the complexities experienced by many public and private interests around the State of California as SGMA implementation is now well underway, with many rightfully wanting to ensure their voice is heard.