Establishment of agencies for local groundwater governance under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

Anita Milman
Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts, US; amilman@eco.umass.edu

Luisa Galindo
Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts, US; lgalindo@eco.umass.edu

William Blomquist
Department of Political Science, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana, US; blomquis@iupui.edu

Esther Conrad
Community Engaged Learning for Environmental Sustainability, Haas Center for Public Service, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, US; esther@stanford.edu

ABSTRACT: With the passage of its 'Sustainable Groundwater Management Act' (SGMA), California devolved both authority and responsibility for achieving sustainable groundwater management to the local level, with state-level oversight. The passage of SGMA created a new political situation within each groundwater basin covered by the law, as public agencies were tasked with self-organizing to establish local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs). This research examines GSA formation decisions to determine where GSAs formed, whether they were formed by a single agency or a partnership, and whether agencies chose to pursue sustainable groundwater management by way of a single basin-wide organization or by coordinating across multiple organizational structures. The research then tests hypotheses regarding the relative influence of control over the resource, control over decision-making, transaction costs, heterogeneity and institutional bricolage on GSA formation decisions. Results indicate mixed preferences for GSA structure, though a majority of public water agencies preferred to independently form a GSA rather than to partner in forming a GSA. Results also suggest GSA formation decisions are the result of overlapping and interacting concerns about control, heterogeneity, and transaction costs. Future research should examine how GSA formation choices serve to influence achievement of groundwater sustainability at the basin scale.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater, governance, politics, mandate implementation, California