Geoff Vanden Heuvel
Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs
The Madera County Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) represents the groundwater-only portion of two critically overdrafted subbasins in the Central Valley: the Madera Subbasin and the Chowchilla Subbasin, both of which have a significant number of dairies. The GSA has been working for a number of years on complying with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act to put together a Groundwater Sustainability Plan that would essentially eliminate groundwater overdraft between now and the year 2040. Part of that plan included an annual per irrigated acre fee to fund projects and programs that would assist the area in increasing surface water supplies and paying for land fallowing programs.
The proposed fee for the Madera Subbasin portion of the GSA was $246 per acre per year and the proposed fee for the Chowchilla Subbasin portion was $203 per acre per year. The difference in fee amounts was due to differences in costs of the projects in the two subbasin areas. Each parcel in the GSA had a vote and if a majority of the parcels protested the fee, then the fee proposal would be defeated. There was a significant and organized effort to defeat the proposed fee in both subbasins. When the protest votes were tabulated this past Tuesday, the Madera Subbasin protest votes, while significant, were not over the 50% threshold, so the fee is adopted. In the Chowchilla subbasin portion, the protest votes were over 50% and the fee was not adopted.
The implications of this split vote are unclear at this point. Madera County GSA is for the most part dependent on groundwater only for a water supply. Because there is no funding to do projects in the Chowchilla Subbasin portion, the current plan will need to be adjusted. Given the significant protest in the Madera Subbasin portion, it seems that the Madera County Board of Supervisors might also want to look at whether to move forward with the $246 per acre fee there as well. Both the Madera Subbasin and the Chowchilla Subbasin have GSAs that do have surface water.
In the eyes of the state Department of Water Resources under the SGMA regulations, the adequacy of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan is judged on a subbasin level, not an individual GSA level. So, while the water districts in Madera and Chowchilla, which both created their own separate GSAs do have surface water and consider themselves to be mostly sustainable, they cannot ignore their groundwater only neighbors because the subbasin will be judged as a whole. There is certainly more to come on this whole issue. If you would like more information, feel free to reach out to me.