State distributes grants to help implement SGMA


Issue Date: June 19, 2019
By Christine Souza

With some local agencies just months away from a deadline to complete groundwater management plans, local and state officials acknowledge there have been a few speed bumps in distributing grant funding for planning and implementation. But observers say they expect the grant process overall to benefit groups working to comply with provisions of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

"There's the old adage that there's no free money; you take the bad with the good and the bad is, these processes always take longer," Northern California Water Association President David Guy said. "We've done grants over the years and when you jump into the grant world, you have to expect stuff. There's delays and audits, and it's true, there's all kinds of consternation that comes with that, so that's the trade-off."

Kelley List, senior engineer geologist for the California Department of Water Resources, the state agency overseeing the SGMA grant program, agreed it is fairly routine for there to be a few setbacks when it comes to distributing grant funding.

"For new grantees that have never done this process before, there's a huge learning curve on how to navigate through the state requirements for grant funding," said List, who manages the DWR sustainable groundwater management grant program. "So far, everything seems to be going really well, (but) there's always going to be a few things here and there."

California Farm Bureau Federation Director of Water Resources Danny Merkley said it is important that grant funding for local groundwater sustainability agencies be awarded in a timely manner, since GSAs serving basins considered to be critically overdrafted must develop groundwater sustainability plans by 2020. The deadline is 2022 for medium- and high-priority basins.

So far, there have been two rounds of grant funding, through the Proposition 1 water bond, which required a 50% local match of the total project cost, and through the Proposition 68 Sustainable Groundwater Planning Grant Program, which requires a 25% total cost match. Despite the hiccups, List said DWR has awarded 79 grants totaling $98 million through those programs to various California GSAs.

A comment period closed Monday for draft documents related to a third round of funding, which is expected to have $48.3 million in competitive grants available for SGMA planning.

For that third round, set to open this fall, List said about $1 million has been shifted from previous rounds and rolled over, due to a SGMA basin re-prioritization that happened in recent months. During that process, some basins had their priority reassigned.

"GSAs that just formed, some of them were just trying to form when we awarded the Prop. 1 grant last time and they weren't quite ready," List said. "And we have some who went from low (priority) to medium and high, and now must meet the SGMA regulations, so they will be applying (for round-three funding)."

Colusa Groundwater Authority program manager Mary Fahey said Colusa County received a Proposition 1 grant for $250,000 to help counties with stressed basins and a second Proposition 1 planning grant for $1 million. Because the area is considered a disadvantaged community, Fahey said, the planning grant does not require matching funds.

"We have the $1 million grant and it is estimated that our (groundwater sustainability plan) will cost about $1.5 million. It's a lot of money," she said. "There were some delays with the GSP funding. It took them a little while to get the agreements in place on this last one, but we are all learning as we go. We're all just trying to do our best to comply and DWR has done a great job. They have quite the load dumped on them as well."

To help fund the day-to-day operations of the GSA, Fahey said, the Colusa Groundwater Authority took part in procedures required by Proposition 218 to establish a landowner fee.

"It's a property-related fee, so our charge is based on our budget and acreage being assessed, and it came out to $1.21 an acre," she said. "The purpose of the funding is long-term funding—anything you need to run an organization."

Fahey added that the grants and Proposition 218 process had been very helpful to keep the GSA running.

"DWR offers not just the grant funding, but facilitation support services and technical support services," she said. "I would definitely encourage any GSA to look at any type of support or funding from DWR."

List encouraged GSAs to take advantage of meetings led by DWR to learn more about how the agency can assist with financial, technical, facilitation and support services related to SGMA plans and implementation.

"People should get involved," she said. "That's the only way to get your voice and your concerns heard. I keep telling everybody I know to get involved with their local GSA. You have to. Water is life and water is your livelihood."

To learn more about DWR Sustainable Groundwater Management grants and other assistance, see www.water.ca.gov/sgmgrants.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.