With roughly two and a half months remaining before a state-mandated deadline, local agencies overseeing critically overdrafted groundwater basins are working to finalize sustainability plans as required by a 2014 state law.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, requires local groundwater sustainability agencies in critically overdrafted basins to submit their plans by next Jan. 31. The plans must describe how local agencies will achieve groundwater sustainability by 2040, and should include measurable objectives and milestones in five-year increments.
The deputy director of statewide groundwater management for the California Department of Water Resources, Taryn Ravazzini, said she expects that once plans are submitted, local groundwater agencies will begin implementing them immediately. After plans are submitted, DWR has 20 days to post them to its website; that posting triggers a 60-day public comment period.
"DWR has two years from submission to evaluate and assess the plans," Ravazzini said. "Approved GSPs (groundwater sustainability plans) will continue to be implemented and can be improved through time."
If plans are determined to be incomplete, she said, agencies will be given 180 days to take "corrective actions." If a local agency doesn't meet the Jan. 31 deadline, the State Water Resources Control Board would then consider what Ravazzini called "the appropriate next steps for intervention."
Local agencies can amend their GSPs at any time, Ravazzini said, adding it is expected this will happen as they learn more about groundwater conditions in their basins. The agencies will also develop annual reports to show their progress, and that progress will be evaluated at least every five years. DWR will continue to provide assistance and guidance to GSAs throughout plan implementation, Ravazzini said.
At the Central California Irrigation District in Los Banos, General Manager Jarrett Martin said the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Groundwater Sustainability Agency remains on track to complete its plan by the Jan. 31 deadline. The GSA includes CCID and three other irrigation districts.
"In the Delta-Mendota subbasin, there's 23 GSAs developing six different GSPs," Martin said. "Our draft plan represents sustainable groundwater management development and implementation on behalf of about 292,000 total acres and three disadvantaged communities, three severely disadvantaged communities and some wildlife habitat."
The Delta-Mendota subbasin has been designated as critically overdrafted due to land subsidence, he said.
Martin described development of the plan for his part of the subbasin as a fairly smooth process, due to the districts' good surface water supply and long history of working with nearby cities and other local agencies.
Groundwater agencies are monitoring data for inclusion in the first annual reports. This information will provide context for each group's progress toward the groundwater sustainability objectives set forth in each GSP.
For decades, CCID has been a "net (groundwater) recharger as opposed to a net extractor," Martin said, thanks to the district's "great surface water supply."
"Prior to SGMA, we were doing annual groundwater investigations. Our hydrologist would come back with a recommendation on how to manage the aquifer as a result," he said.
Farmer Andrew Bloom, who farms walnuts, beans, corn and alfalfa in Gustine, said he is thankful for the region's reliable surface water supply and the district's data collection efforts during the past 20 years.
"Having a reliable and good surface water supply enables us to be good partners with the surrounding districts and the cities," said Bloom, a member of the CCID board of directors. "We've been actively helping neighbors to help stop this problem."
For critically overdrafted subbasins in Madera County, one way to help achieve sustainability is by gathering more data, said Stephanie Anagnoson, Madera County Water and Natural Resources Department director, who spoke last week during a SGMA meeting in Madera held by American Pistachio Growers.
"Data that we're using right now in many of these groundwater sustainability plans is data that we happen to have had, not because of SGMA, but because somebody was monitoring," Anagnoson said. "GSAs are making their best efforts to put together these groundwater sustainability plans with the existing data that we have."
Having better data, she said, would give local groundwater agencies "a real picture of what our groundwater aquifers are doing. We'll have more data that helps us refine where we're going and where we need to be."
Madera County is composed of three subbasins designated as critically overdrafted and high priority. The county said its plan will describe how sustainability will be achieved, in partnership with irrigation districts and local cities.
Madera County pistachio and almond farmer Gary Foth said he is concerned about SGMA.
"Everybody is confused, scared—I mean, it's our livelihood," said Foth, whose farm relies on groundwater exclusively. "When you start talking about idling 40% of your ground, that's a little scary, because you've worked your whole life to build up something, take care of your family and maybe pass that on."
Many at the Madera meeting encouraged farmers to become enganged in the SGMA process. To prepare for 2020, when plans start coming online, Lauren Layne, water law attorney for Baker, Manock & Jensen in Fresno, encouraged farmers to read the GSP that applies to their land.
"Reading the GSP is really helpful and also, know how much water you're using or pumping, where your water is coming from and whether you're using surface water and groundwater," Layne said.
Foth added there is a common understanding that water recharge, surface storage and conveyance are all needed, and working together to find solutions is very important.
"We either work together or we'll fall," Foth said. "If we're all not headed in the same direction for the common good, then we fall flat on our face."
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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