There is a lot of activity going on right now in the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) I cover for Milk Producers Council. I thought I would give you a sampling of that activity.
In the Merced Subbasin GSA, they are in the middle of collecting bids from their landowners for a temporary groundwater fallowing program. They will be collecting bids for another few weeks and then making their selection for who they will pay to fallow their land. You can read a very informative FAQ document on the Merced program here. The Merced board also authorized a framework document that outlines how landowners can receive recharge credits to be used in the future. The Merced Subbasin GSA anticipates establishing an individual landowner groundwater usage allocation in the year 2026. So, to encourage landowner-initiated recharge now, they are establishing a policy for landowners to create and bank credits for surface/flood water that they recharge now that can be used as credit in the future when an allocation program is put in place. You can read a draft of that policy here.
In the Chowchilla Subbasin, it is the landowners that are scrambling. Madera County GSA, which covers a big part of the non-Chowchilla Water District land in the Subbasin, has adopted a landowner pumping limit and a modest penalty fee for exceeding it. They also had a substantial plan to build recharge ponds, fund a land fallowing program, pay for domestic well mitigation and buy into a small portion of the new Sites Reservoir water supply. To do all those things a fee of $204 per acre per year was submitted to the landowners in a Proposition 218 election. The landowners voted down the fee and are now in the process of forming a formal body that can take on the GSA responsibilities. It is very late in the game and time will tell if they can avoid state intervention.
In the Madera Subbasin the landowners narrowly approved the Madera County GSA fee, which covered the same items as the Chowchilla plan. The fee in the Madera Subbasin portion of the Madera County GSA is $246 per acre and the landowners there have requested that the GSA lower that fee since their neighbors in Chowchilla are paying no fee. The Madera County Board of Supervisors is the governing body of the Madera County GSA and they will have two new elected members out of five next month who may have their own ideas.
In the North Fork Kings GSA, the policy subcommittee will be discussing a roadmap to groundwater allocations. You can read the draft proposal here and a landowner recharge credit program draft here. The McMullin Area GSA (MAGSA) obtained a USDA NRCS EQIP Water Smart grant that is available to individual landowners in MAGSA. The GSA is facilitating participation for the landowners. You can learn more about this program here.
Mid Kings River GSA is just starting a mandatory well registration policy. All well owners in the GSA are required to register their wells and will soon be required to install flow meters.
Greater Kaweah GSA is in the middle of adopting a landowner groundwater allocation program. The initial policy provoked a strong backlash from the landowners (read here). To its credit, the GKGSA board has held a number of meetings and formed an ad hoc committee of board and stakeholders to come up with a new penalty rate and land fallowing program to meet the goal of the GSP to reduce overdraft. More to come from this GSA.
Mid Kaweah GSA had adopted an emergency allocation policy last May. Results showed that landowners reduced pumping by about 16% during the 2022 irrigation season. This positive result prompted the board to renew the allocation at the same level for the 2023 season.
The Lower Tule Irrigation District GSA and the Pixley Irrigation GSA are managed by the same office. They recently received funding from an NGO group for a fallowing program. The two GSAs decided to supplement those funds and solicited fallowing bids from landowners. The districts accepted bids for 1,500 acres for a cost of about $700,000.
The Chino Basin Watermaster governs groundwater usage in the Chino area. I still serve on the Agricultural Pool committee in Chino. Their groundwater plan is a court judgement originally established in 1977. In that plan, agriculture is allocated 82,800 acre-feet per year of groundwater pumping. Last year farmers and dairymen pumped 21,000 acre-feet and for no charge, transferred over 61,000 acre-feet of unpumped groundwater right to the cities for urban use. If cities use more than their allocation, the replenishment rate the cities have to pay is $811 per acre foot. You can see what a benefit it is to the Chino Valley cities to be able to receive 61,000 acre-feet from Chino Basin agriculture free of charge.
If you have any questions or comments, or you are interested in talking about these issues, please reach out. There is a lot going on, this is just a sampling of what I learned this week. I am always happy to chat.
Geoff Vanden Heuvel
Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs