SGMA and CV-SALTS Impact Industrial and Commercial Entities in California’s Central Valley

Industrial and commercial entities in California’s Central Valley should prepare for impacts to facility operations and discharge permits resulting from the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA) and CV-SALTS Salinity and Nitrate Control Programs. SGMA has the potential to impact continued groundwater use as high and medium-priority groundwater basins work to achieve groundwater basin sustainability. CV-SALTS has the potential to affect discharge permits in the Central Valley for entities discharging salts, nitrates and other forms of nitrogen as part of their facility process.


In 2014, the State of California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, historic legislation to help sustainably manage groundwater. Per SGMA, local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) must be formed for all high and medium priority basins in the state, and these GSAs must develop and implement Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) for managing and using groundwater without causing undesirable results.

In 2013, the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) passed a Statewide Recycled Water Policy to facilitate increased use of recycled water from municipal wastewater sources in a manner that is consistent with state and federal water quality laws. The purpose of the policy was to provide consistent direction to the Regional Water Quality Control Boards charged with permitting recycled water use projects by prescribing criteria that are intended to streamline the permitting of the vast majority of recycled water projects. Included in the State’s Recycled Water Policy was the use of Salt and Nutrient Management Plans (SNMPs), developed at the basin or subbasin level, to address water quality concerns.

Because salts and nitrates are of significant concern in the Central Valley and have been linked to potentially significant economic impacts if not addressed, the Central Valley Salinity Coalition was formed to address salt and nutrient loading in the larger region. The non-profit coalition of public agencies, businesses and associations formed in 2008 and started the CV-SALTS process. The SNMP for the Central Valley was prepared in 2017, and in 2018, the Central Valley Regional Board completed a basin plan amendment to incorporate the Central Valley SNMP regulatory approaches.

Impacts to Central Valley

Groundwater quality in the Central Valley has historically been managed on a fragmented basis with larger, regulatory programs implemented to regulate and manage discharges from specific groups. One of the largest existing programs is the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP), initiated in 2003 to prevent agricultural runoff from impairing surface waters and groundwater. Permits issued to address irrigated agricultural discharges throughout the Central Valley typically require agricultural discharges to participate in the ILRP either individually or collectively through coalitions formed for this specific purpose.

More recently, the passage of SGMA has led to the formation of GSAs in the Central Valley who are also required to manage groundwater basin sustainability relative to six indicators, including groundwater quality.  Each GSP, developed for a subbasin or part of a subbasin, establishes minimum thresholds and measurable objectives to which groundwater quality is to be managed; however GSAs do not have regulatory authority to issue or modify discharge permits (with the exception of GSAs, such as counties, that already have this permitting authority).

Implementation of CV-SALTS will add yet another set of ‘rules’ for groundwater quality management (especially for nitrates and salts) with a potentially different set of compliance points and cooperating entities. One key difference in this program is that all dischargers of salts and nutrients in the Central Valley are required to comply, and this is the first time that industrial and commercial dischargers will have a ‘seat at the table’ in determining how larger regional compliance programs will be implemented. Because the CV-SALTS Nitrate and Salt Control Programs will be implemented under a larger umbrella of SGMA, it will be important to recognize and take advantage of the nexus of these two programs (CV-SALTS and SGMA) and for industrial and commercial dischargers to become active stakeholders in groundwater basin management relative to water quality.

While both SGMA and CV-SALTS directly impact municipal and agricultural entities, CV-SALTS will directly impact industrial and commercial entities discharging nitrate and/or salts as part of their permitted discharges. SGMA indirectly impacts industrial and commercial entities through the implementation of monitoring and reporting requirements and/or groundwater extraction restrictions that may be imposed as part of GSP implementation.

The following is a list of ways Woodard & Curran can assist with compliance with both SGMA and CV-SALTS:

  • Permitting and compliance support for individual and/or regional program compliance, including description and assessment of alternatives offered for compliance
  • Participation on your behalf in Management Zone programs and/or technical support in compliance with these programs
  • Preparation of technical documents for submittal to DWR as required by CV-SALTS Nitrate and Salt Control Program, including initial water quality assessments and antidegradation analyses
  • Analysis and modification of groundwater system operations to mitigate water quality or other impacts (such as inelastic land subsidence) under SGMA and/or CV-SALTS
  • Monitoring program development, implementation, analysis and compliance reporting
  • Groundwater modeling, including contaminant modeling
  • Technical support and design in support of compliance with GSPs (e.g. design and installation of metering systems)
  • Wastewater treatment system design/build/operate services to dischargers that exceed these limits, including evaluation of reuse options
  • Participate on your behalf in GSP implementation process through participation on technical advisory or public advisory committees, attendance at meetings, strategic review of documents, etc.
  • Supply reliability assessments, including development of conjunctive use alternatives
  • Risk analyses in terms of potential future impacts on supplies and/or ability to discharge

Woodard & Curran has been offering these types of services in California for the last 20 years and has been at the forefront to SGMA compliance since its inception in 2015. Our project experience in California, and nationwide, in various management planning programs, watershed and groundwater programs, as well as our wastewater and drinking water services, compliance services, CEQA/NEPA and permitting services provide a broad and flexible base of experience and connections that can be utilized to meet our clients’ needs.


Leslie Dumas

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