Geoff Vanden Heuvel
Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs
This week, the Board of the Greater Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) adopted a groundwater allocation for landowners, which will take effect on October 1. With this action, seven GSAs governing a substantial amount of the land where there is dairy production in the Southern San Joaquin Valley have imposed groundwater allocations. These seven GSAs will restrict groundwater pumping along with charging fees for accessing that water.
All seven of these areas are using satellite evapotranspiration as the measuring system to track water consumption. While there are some similarities in approach, there are some significant differences as well. Below, I outline fees associated with each GSA, which are accurate to the best of my knowledge based on my research and participation in each of these GSAs.
Semitropic Water Storage District is in northern Kern County. The part of this district that does not have surface water access from the State Water Project (which is most of the dairy land) was allocated 3.89 acre-feet per acre in 2022 and that will decline to 3.73 acre-feet per acre in 2023. This allocation will decline every year until it flat lines in 2040 at 1.06 acre-feet per acre. The annual fee to be covered under the Semitropic GSA is $139.40 per acre per year.
The Pixley Irrigation District GSA is in southern Tulare County. It allocated 1.35 acre-feet per acre based on precipitation, native yield and district allocated groundwater credits. Landowners pay a $70 per acre fee to operate the district. In addition, 10 acre-feet of transition water was allocated over the five-year period from 2020-2024. The fee to access the transition water is $90 per acre-foot for the first five acre-feet and $180 per acre-foot for the next five acre-feet.
The Lower Tule River Irrigation District GSA is located in Tulare County, just to the north of the Pixley Irrigation District. This GSA allocated 1.79 acre-feet per acre based on precipitation, native yield and district allocated groundwater credits. Landowners pay a $50 per acre fee to operate the district. In addition, 10 acre-feet of transition water was allocated over the five-year period from 2020-2024. The fee to access the transition water is $90 per acre-foot for the first five acre-feet and $180 per acre-foot for the next five acre-feet.
Mid Kaweah GSA is in Tulare County and makes up the cities of Tulare, Visalia and the Tulare Irrigation District (TID). There is quite a bit of dairy in this GSA. TID does have access to significant surface water supplies, but they have also imposed a groundwater pumping cap on their landowners. Approximately 10 inches or 0.83 acre-feet per acre is allocated as native yield with no charge. An additional tier 1 allocation of 0.83 acre-feet is available for a fee of $10 per acre-foot. A tier 2 allocation of another 0.83 acre-feet costs $10 per acre-foot for a total of 2.5 acre-feet per acre allocation. An additional 1 acre-foot per acre of relief pumping is available for $260 per acre-foot. Pumping over 3.5 acre-feet per acre will result in a penalty of $500 an acre-foot. Almost all Mid Kaweah GSA farmers are in TID, where they pay an additional fee of $67 per acre. This fee is escalating annually.
Greater Kaweah GSA is in Tulare County and covers ground both west and east of the cities of Tulare and Visalia. There are a lot of dairies in Greater Kaweah and much of this GSA is dependent exclusively on groundwater. The allocation just passed by the GKGSA Board and taking effect on October 1, allocates each landowner 0.83 acre-feet (10 inches) per acre of native yield at no cost. In addition, there is a tier 1 allocation of another 0.83 acre-feet per acre for a fee of $125 per acre-foot and a tier 2 allocation of 1.04 acre-feet per acre for a fee of $250 per acre-foot. The total of these allocations is 2.7 acre-feet per assessed irrigated acre. Groundwater consumption in excess of the 2.7 acre-feet per acre will be penalized with a fee of $500 per acre-foot and a reduction in the next year’s allocation.
Madera County GSA – Madera Subbasin. The Board of supervisors of Madera County is the governing body of this GSA, which covers most of the ground in the area that is not part of a surface water district. This GSA has imposed an allocation of 28 inches per acre for 2022 and 27.7 inches per acre for 2023. A fee of $246 per acre for 2023 was adopted, although there has recently been a request to the Board of Supervisors to lower that fee. In addition, an administrative fee of $23 per acre is charged to all the irrigated acres in the GSA. Groundwater consumption over the allocation results in a $100 per acre-foot penalty, which will increase to $200 for the following year.
Madera County GSA – Chowchilla Subbasin. The Madera County Board of Supervisors is also the governing body for this area. The groundwater consumption allocation in the Chowchilla Subbasin portion was 26.3 inches per acre in 2022, going down to 25.9 inches in 2023. The Madera County GSA had proposed a $204 per acre fee for the Chowchilla Subbasin portion, but the landowners mounted a successful protest campaign which prevented the GSA from adopting the fee. Discussions are now ongoing with landowners about forming a new water entity which would be funded by the landowners and eventually take over management of this area from the county. The allocations are still in effect. A penalty of $100 per acre-foot increasing to $200 per acre foot the following year will be imposed on groundwater consumption over the allocation. This area also pays a $23 per acre administrative fee and will pay a $1,000 per entity fee if the landowners do not put up a significant amount of money in the next few months to cover essential parts of their groundwater sustainability plan.