Decision Support Services & the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

California’s recent Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires stakeholders in groundwater basins designated as medium- and high-priority to form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) by June 2017.  SGMA also requires these GSAs to develop Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) for their basins by 2022 (or 2020 in some cases). Once established, GSPs will affect a wide range of stakeholders in a groundwater basin, including representatives of the agricultural industry, landowners with overlying pumping rights, municipal water suppliers, local land-use authorities, environmental groups, industrial and residential water users, recreational users of surface waters, and representatives of county, state, federal, and tribal governments.

Given the divergent interests and concerns of stakeholders, the development  of GSAs and GSPs will likely be highly controversial in many basins.  It seems  probable that many groundwater basins would arrive at a settled GSP only by way of expensive and time-consuming legal proceedings, or by state intervention.  To avoid this time and expense, SGMA encourages stakeholders to take a collaborative and consensus-driven approach to the development of GSAs and GSPs involving professional facilitation.

Exponent provides significant expertise in groundwater resource management.  Our environmental and ecological sciences practices include nationally recognized experts in water supply, water quality, water rights, ecological impacts, groundwater and surface water dynamics, and environmental modeling.

Decision Support and the Formation of GSAs and GSPs

Exponent, and its strategic partner Lumina, offer rigorous decision support services, combined with engineering and scientific expertise in groundwater resource management, to facilitate the formation of GSAs and GSPs in the collaborative, consensus-driven way envisioned by SGMA. Using flexible decision support software, the crucial scientific information needed for sound decision-making can be incorporated into a transparent process to build consensus out of controversy. The approach empowers stakeholders to explore alternative scenarios and their effects on key groundwater management criteria.

The Exponent-Lumina team begins by convening representatives of key basin stakeholder groups and canvassing their interests, objectives, and concerns. Possible GSP management alternatives are then formulated representing the range of these interests, objectives, and concerns. Scientific and technical information are then used to estimate the effects of management alternatives with respect to key groundwater management criteria, such as maintenance of water supplies and avoidance of the “undesirable results” specified in SGMA (i.e., significant and unreasonable lowering of groundwater levels, reduction in groundwater storage, seawater intrusion, degraded water quality, land subsidence, and surface water depletion). With this information, a basin-specific decision support model is formulated which allows rigorous analysis of the environmental, ecological, and economic impacts of alternatives and facilitates independent, hands-on assessment by stakeholders. These tools can be used at any point during the process of GSA formation or GSP development to foster stakeholder trust and buy-in.

The Exponent-Lumina team begins by convening representatives of key basin stakeholder groups and canvassing their interests, objectives, and concerns. Possible GSP management alternatives are then formulated representing the range of these interests, objectives, and concerns. Scientific and technical information are then used to estimate the effects of management alternatives with 

respect to key groundwater management criteria, such as maintenance of water supplies and avoidance of the “undesirable results” specified in SGMA (i.e., significant and unreasonable lowering of groundwater levels, reduction in groundwater storage, seawater intrusion, degraded water quality, land subsidence, and surface water depletion).  With this information, a basin-specific decision support model is formulated which allows rigorous analysis of the environmental, ecological, and economic impacts of alternatives and facilitates independent, hands-on assessment by stakeholders. These tools can be used at any point during the process of GSA formation or GSP development to foster stakeholder trust and buy-in.

Decision Support Success Stories

Our decision support process was used successfully to inform policymakers of the various options and implications available when decommissioning offshore oil and gas platforms in Southern California. Decommissioning is highly controversial since it requires addressing the divergent interests of a wide range of stakeholders, including platform operators, environmental groups, agency managers, commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, and recreational divers.

The California Ocean Science Trust commissioned a comprehensive study to examine the environmental, ecological, and economic impacts of decommissioning options and to provide a transparent process for decision making among the stakeholders.  The decision modeling conducted as part of the study allowed stakeholders to rank their concerns and maximize consensus.  The surprising result was that partial platform removal (“rigs to reefs”) became the consensus option among most stakeholders (even many initially opposed) because of its lower cost and preservation of environmental resources.  Due in part to the decision support process, AB 2503, the California Marine Resources Legacy Act, was signed into law in 2010, allowing for partial decommissioning and artificial reefing of offshore platforms in California.

Decision support modeling was also used successfully to re-envision water resource management in St. Helena, California, a wine-growing community in the Napa Valley where demands for water threatened to outstrip available supplies, including groundwater, surface water, and water purchased from an adjacent city.  The decision support process helped the City to identify clear policies on growth and land development, water conservation, water recycling, and groundwater usage in the face of year-to-year climate uncertainty and long-term climate change.

The results of the St. Helena decision support modeling were described by Mayor Ann Nevero as follows: “The work done by the Water Committees for the City of St. Helena completely altered the planning process used by the city staff, Planning Commission, and City Council.  The previous lack of data-driven decision processes had resulted in long-standing political positioning around future planning, rather than the solid, non-political approach needed to set the appropriate direction for the entire city.  The process also united political opponents, assured the public, and provided a tool for leading-edge and exceptional governmental decision making now, and into the future.”

Exponent-Lumina Partnership

Exponent has a strategic partnership with Lumina, the developer of Analytica®—a decision support software tool.  Analytica®  is distinguished from its competitors by its  flexibility, its transparency, and its ability to rigorously incorporate complex scientific information—both quantitative and qualitative.  The flexible structure of Analytica® allows the development of decision support models that are customized for any decision context.   Users and stakeholders can see the content  of each module in the model, and can interactively and independently explore alternative decision scenarios. Analytica® allows all relevant scientific information  to be integrated into structured evaluations  that account for outcome uncertainties,  and that incorporate both qualitative effects (e.g., riparian habitat impacts) and naturally quantifiable effects (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions, cost).

Professionals