Many Questions Around SGMA Law

SGMA Law is Poorly Written

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

A recent meeting brought farmers and other stakeholders to California State University, Fresno to discuss the possible impacts of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

SGMA requires governments and water agencies of high and medium priority groundwater basins to halt overdraft pumping and to bring those basins in equal levels between pumping and recharge. Under SGMA, these basins should reach sustainability within 20 years of implementing their sustainability plans. For critically over drafted basins, that will be 2040. For the remaining high and medium priority basins, 2042 is the deadline.

Don Wright,the publisher of WaterWrights.net, which is the only agriculture water reporting service in the Valley, spoke om the topic.

“SGMA is an overwhelming concept for most people because it’s an overwhelmingly poorly written law,” Wright said. “However, you show me anybody more creative than a farmer trying to get water. Hopefully, people left [the meeting] with the hope that others are looking out for solutions.”

Farmers and other stakeholders attended a recent SGMA meeting at California State University, Fresno.

Wright explained that the meeting helps blunt the impacts, the intended consequences, and the unintended consequences that come from legislation like this.

On the panel were farmers, agronomist, soil engineers, farmers, and a water attorney.

“All of these people are intimately involved in how the junction between water being delivered to the plants and harvest taken place. A lot of questions were answered, more importantly, we started defining the issues that need to be asked. And often that’s often the most critical step,” Wright said.

Lauren Layne, a water law attorney with Baker Manock and Jensen, suggested that farmers take action and put meters on their wells to start collecting data that could be of use to them.

“That’s a double edge sword,” Wright said. “For one it’s, it’s like putting a GPS on your vehicle for the government to follow you around. You don’t want that. You don’t want the government necessarily know how much water you’re using. But on the other side, if you keep that information private, once SGMA starts being implemented, and you can prove that you’ve used X amount of water, you can report your average cost per acre. Also, if a farmer is in an area with surface deliveries, how much does the surface deliveries impact your pumping? That’s a great combination to have.”

Wright said if the industry can get enough information, then they can report that the reason the farming industry needs to repair aquifers is due to cut offs from the deliveries to farmers.

Service providers, product manufacturers, and designers are looking at solutions to SGMA. These products can be seen at Fresno State’s Water Energy and Technology (WET) Center.

“It’s all about how can we keep farmers farming,” Wright said. “I know when a farmer is by himself and your back is against the wall, people are looking out for you.”

Wright also explained that the people that are populating the Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) boards are not the enemy.

“They are men and women like you and I, with a stake in it. They are not the ones trying to cut off the water; they are the ones with boots on the ground dealing with a poorly written law.”

Mid-Kaweah GSA Is Unique with Three Members

Mid-Kaweah GSA Is Urban and Ag Partnership

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

California Ag Today recently spoke with Paul Hendrix, manager of the Mid-Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), about the members they serve and how unique the GSA is.

“The Mid-Kaweah GSA has got three members: the Tulare Irrigation District with large surface supplies and the two growing and larger cities here in Tulare county,Tulare and Visalia,” Hendrix explained. “So we are one of the more unique GSAs in that we have both, and urban and ag partnership on the Sustainable Groundwater  Management Area (SGMA) compliance. Other GSAs have a larger number of members.

Having local GSAs has long been considered better to serve an area.

“That was something we fought for— and really tried to stave off groundwater legislation for many years—is that we can manage this locally, but drought and other regulatory impacts were such that we couldn’t hold off this passage of SGMA, but they did grant us basically a 25-year period to manage this locally with local authorities and gave us some leeway to do that,” Hendrix said.

“But if we can’t do it locally in the end, the state will step in,” he explained. “Each GSA … there’s at least a hundred here in the San Joaquin Valley and they have been freshly formed, will decide their rules and they will work in partnership with their neighboring GSAs to make sure it’s all consistent, but it’s up to each one of those GSA boards to set up these rules and not Sacramento.”

Letting GSAs or State Decide Sustainability

Who Decides What is Sustainable Pumping?

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Local groundwater sustainability agencies, also known as GSAs are quickly being developed to draw out specific plans on how to prevent groundwater overdraft in the areas of the state, particularly in the central San Joaquin Valley. It’s all part of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) that could forever change the face of agriculture, as we know it today.

Keith Freitas farms lemons on the east side of Fresno County, and he knows of many farmers that are getting together to fight SGMA.

“They’re going to take it to the courts and the judicial. They’ll be filing injunctive orders,” Freitas said. “You’ve got perishable crops you’re dealing with, so the injunctions can come really quick, they can last for long time, and for many years. There’s a possibility the way this thing is structured legally, if we put a legal defense program together and a plan, the plan could push this thing out another 10, 15, 20 years.

And sustainable pumping is the linchpin of SGMA.

The local GSAs are formed to make your basin sustainable, and the state says the GSAs in control.

“Well, how could we be in control of our own sustainability if the states laying the ground rules and setting the criteria for what’s sustainable, and what’s not?” Freitas said.

So, if the Central Valley GSAs, for example say that they believe pumping water down to the 2600 foot level underground is sustainable, “Then suddenly the state’s going to say: ‘well, no, that’s not even close.’”

“You draft the aquifer down to a thousand feet, all the buttons and bells and whistles go off, and you’re no longer sustainable,” Freitas said. “Well, wait a minute. What happened to that we choose what’s sustainable?”

SGMA Workshop Features GSA Updates

SGMA Workshop Sept. 20

Clovis Veterans Memorial District

Join the Department of Water Resources (DWR) staff for an interactive workshop to discuss DWR Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) implementation efforts and key components of Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) development.

The workshop will feature groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) formation updates, assistance & engagement information; guidance, data, and tools overviews; interactive forums on Groundwater Sustainability Plan development; and information booths on the Proposition 1 Sustainable Groundwater Planning Grant Program (SGWP).

Don’t miss the opportunity to meet DWR’s SGMA Program and Region Office Staff! Information booths will open at 12:30 P.M.

The workshop will be held on September 20, 2017, from 1 PM to 5 PM at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, 808 Fourth Street, Clovis, CA 93612.

Please RSVP for the workshop by clicking here.  Registration is not required but is appreciated to ensure suitable accommodations for all attendees. This workshop is free of charge and is open to all interested persons and the public.