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State Board puts Tulare Lake Subbasin into Probation

A wise man once said, “You have to deal with the world the way that it is, and not the way you wished it would be.”  This is the reality facing the good people in the Tulare Lake Subbasin. If you would like to read a news article about the State Water Board Hearing that took place this past Tuesday, a couple of good ones are available here and here.


Nearly eight hours of very sincere and substantive testimony from many stakeholders was presented on Tuesday. The bottom line is the fact that the five Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) that make up the Tulare Subbasin did not submit an updated Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) to address the deficiencies the State had identified in Tulare Lake’s last submitted GSP in July of 2022. This left the State Board with very little reason not to place the subbasin in probation and voting for probation is what they did 5-0.


The question is where do we go from here? How the local folks respond will determine whether this is just another step on the road to sustainability, or if this is the beginning of a very dark period in Tulare Lake Subbasin. There are both policy problems and process problems that have to be addressed. The biggest policy problem is how to tackle the pumping in the basin that is causing subsidence. At the hearing, water agencies from both west and east of the Tulare Lake Subbasin complained of impacts in their subbasins, which they blame on Tulare Lake parties. There was some interesting pushback from one of the Tulare Lake water districts to taking the whole blame for issues in the neighbor to the East. But the Tulare Lake GSAs themselves have different approaches to arresting and eventually eliminating subsidence that will need to be scientifically defended and coordinated.


The process problems are also significant. Recent actions by the Mid Kings River GSA to implement significant fees and pumping allocations were done without the benefit of a formal stakeholder process during the fee development phase. As the community heard about these major changes and costs, the reaction was understandably negative. With Tulare Lake now formally in probation, there is some time – months not years – for the GSA to get a stakeholder committee process in place and work together to come up with changes that folks can live with. The other GSA in Tulare Lake that has a lot of stakeholders and has not had a stakeholder process is the South Fork Kings GSA. This GSA is in the process of hiring a new management team who will have to hit the ground running to put in place a process that is inclusive that can make the changes to its GSP that will make it acceptable.


There is a lot to do. The State Board did indicate they would assign specific staff to help interface between the State and the GSAs. The probation requirement for landowners to register their wells and report individual groundwater pumping will start in July. The State Board fee to resister a well is $300 plus $20 per acre-foot pumped initially, but it was made clear by the State Board this week that the purpose of the fee is only to cover the State Board cost of managing the Probationary process – not anything else. If $20 per acre foot is too high – which seems likely – it can be reduced through the regular process the State Board goes through to adjust fees. At this point, the State is only requiring pumping information and fees to cover only the additional costs the State Board will incur managing the probation. The GSAs can submit an updated GSP at any time and if it satisfactorily addresses the deficiencies State Board staff identified, then the State Board can end the probation. However, failure by the GSAs to submit an acceptable updated GSP would open the door for the State to impose their own “interim plan” a year from now. Let’s hope and pray we don’t have to cross that bridge.

Geoff Vanden Heuvel

Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs

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