In making the rounds of public meetings of Inadequate Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) over the past couple of weeks, I have heard reports about the meetings these Subbasins have had with the State Water Resources Control Board staff recently. The reports indicate that in those meetings State Board staff has been much clearer and more specific about their concerns and expectations.
One theme I heard from a number of GSAs is that adoption of groundwater pumping allocations needs to be “Plan A.” There are a few Subbasins that have already adopted groundwater allocations, the Tule and the Kaweah being two. But there are others who were hoping to put that off. The hope was that projects to bring in more surface water would be successful, and if those projects didn’t materialize or didn’t produce as much water as hoped for, only then would groundwater allocations be considered. The State Board seems to be communicating that getting a groundwater allocation program in place needs to be a higher priority. Just this week there were at least three GSAs that began that allocation conversation with their boards. There are dairies in all three of those GSAs.
The other topics getting attention from the State Board are minimum groundwater level thresholds and domestic well mitigation programs funded by the GSAs to address the wells that will go dry if groundwater levels continue to drop. Universally, GSAs were frustrated in the past by a lack of guidance from the Department of Water Resources (DWR) as they were writing their plans. In DWR’s defense, regulating groundwater was a completely new law of the State and local control was a primary policy directive in the law. So, DWR was reluctant to give direction. With many approved plans under their belt, the State Board staff appears now to have a better idea of what they want, and they are communicating those expectations more clearly. Lots of difficult conversations are happening. Soon decisions will have to be made. I remain optimistic that all of these Inadequate Subbasins are moving in a positive direction.
Geoff Vanden Heuvel
Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs