Vicky Espinoza is a PhD candidate at UC Merced who is researching the impacts of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act on agricultural land use. She noticed that there weren’t enough resources out there for underrepresented growers about SGMA, especially those who English is not their first language. So she developed a series of bilingual videos and posted them on a new YouTube channel: CaliWaterAg.
“Hopefully through CaliWaterAg, they can obtain what is SGMA, how does it impact them and how they can become involved. Because you know, our growers and communities can attend Groundwater Sustainability Agency meetings, and they could voice their concerns and any suggestions that they may have for developing solutions,” said Espinoza
Those videos are free on YouTube and can be found just by searching CaliWaterAg. Espinoza is also hosting a series of workshops on the topic next month.
“So it’s really a channel to inform, empower and encourage them to become involved in the conversation. And I will be hosting a workshop January 13th in English and January 14th in Spanish to talk to growers and community members, answer any questions they may have regarding the series, SGMA, land use or land re-purposing options that I go over in the fourth video of the series,” noted Espinoz. “And to listen to them, to listen to their perspectives and what they think about land re-purposing options and to address groundwater overdraft.”
With the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) closing in on growers throughout California, there are many questions. One big one is that should growers go ahead and put a meter on their pumps? Helping the farming industry comply with SGMA is Chris Johnson, who owns Aegis Groundwater Consulting, based in Fresno. He’s recommending that growers put a flow meter on their pumps, but he does understand their hesitation.
“I think they’re concerned about what’s going to happen if they provide a mechanism where someone can come out and actually measure, record and evaluate how much water they’re using, that somehow that’s going to go against them,” said Johnson. “And the reality of it is, is that somebody might very well do that but they’re better off knowing that going in, they’re better off understanding and being able to manage and represent for themselves upfront.”
Now, currently we have the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, which have finalized the Groundwater Sustainability Plans. “The Groundwater Sustainability Plans are the deliverable that the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies are tasked with. But you have to understand the scarcity of data we actually have to work with, to actually be able to make decisions,” said Johnson. “And as a consequence, what so many different GSAs are forced to do is to either accept existing data at face value, or they’re having to interpret what the data might be in the absence of actual functional information. And so, it may very well misrepresent what the basin as a whole is having to go through, and they may put restrictions on farmers and growers based on that. And so, that is where having your own data helps you defend your water use, helps you protect yourself.”
<PATRICK: I believe the online version of this article ended here. I would support that, in that the preceding text focuses on the importance of having specific data for individual wells. The following text is more a soliloquy on GSP’s and data gathering and validity.
Johnson explains what will happen when the sustainability plans are in place in 2020. “I think what will happen is once the GSPs are filed with the Department of Water Resources, there’s going to be a period of reflection where people are looking at the adequacy of information supporting the plans. There’s going to be outside parties that question the adequacy of the data and plans, and ultimately out of that will come the next step, which is, ‘Okay, now we have these in place, we know there are a lot of shortcomings.’ Let’s go fill in those gaps. Let’s go get this data together,” said Johnson. I think that most of the regulatory agencies recognize there are data gaps. Let’s just work through the process is there thinking.
“Let’s get ourselves to where we can now start collecting the data. So, in theory, what we’re going to see is over the next 20 years a refinement in all of this, as more information is available, as scientists and engineers get to provide analysis to the policy makers, we end up with a better product in the end,” Johnson noted.
But will that product be good for the growers? “That’s a difficult question to answer because better in the end is leading us towards answering a question with, you’ll have as much water as you want. Well, that’s unlikely to happen,” Johnson said.
“I think there’s going to be significant changes in how we grow things in the Central Valley. The consequence of that may be everything from less food coming out of the Central Valley and/or higher food prices as these businesses attempt to maintain some degree of solubility, so to speak, financially, trying to meet these limited resource. Because that’s essentially what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re coming back and saying : Something bad happened. Now, we’re going to limit this resource.”
The agricultural industry throughout California keeps pushing that it’s too important, we have to provide food for the nation and the world. “I think the more important way to look at this is, is that California can’t afford to have ag fail. And as a consequence, we have to find a means to meet all these different demands and do so in a way that helps keep ag moving forward. It just probably won’t look like what it does today,” he said.
With the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is closing in on growers throughout California, there are many questions. One big one: should growers go ahead and put a meter on their pumps?
Helping the farming industry comply with SGMA, is Chris Johnson owner of Aegis Groundwater Consulting located in Fresno. He recommends that growers put flow meters on their wells. But he does understand the hesitation.
It’s pretty straightforward. Instrument your wells, and monitor them, including water levels, flow rates, electrical use. It’s good for growers to be able to manage wells as assets
Johnson thinks growers are afraid to put flow meters on their wells. They believe it may provide a mechanism where someone can measure, record, and evaluate how much water they’re using, that’s going to go against them. “And the reality of it is that somebody might very well do that, but they’re better off knowing that going in. They’re better off understanding and being able to manage and represent for themselves upfront.
And while the local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies have created the Groundwater Sustainability Plans, Johnson noted that the GSPs are the deliverable that the groundwater sustainability agencies are tasked with.
“But we need to understand that the lack of data that we have to work with and be able to make decisions. And as a consequence, what so many different GSAs are forced to do is to either accept existing data at face value, or they have to interpret what the data might be in the absence of actual functional information,” noted Johnson. And so, it may very well misrepresent what the basin as a whole has to go through, and regulators may put restrictions on farmers and growers based on that. That’s where having your data helps you defend and protect yourself.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is going to make life increasingly difficult for farmers and water districts. Each water district will have to prove it is sustainable within a certain time. Translation: The amount of groundwater overdraft must be reduced to zero over a definite time period.
In order to accomplish this, there are basically two solutions. One, idle (fallow) enough land to reduce the amount to groundwater pumping until the basin is in balance. Or, two, access new surface water supplies to increase the amount available to the basin until it is in compliance. Most basins will probably use a combination of the two methods.
Water districts have the additional task as public agencies to balance their budgets. Water districts that sometimes have extra surface water use that extra supply to sell water to balance the budget. The article referred to below addresses that situation. Merced Irrigation District (MID) is seeking State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) approval to sell water outside its basin.
The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance has protested the transfer before the SWRCB. The reasoning as we understand it is that if MID has water to sell outside the basin, then MID can afford to release more water for the environment.
Is there a solution to this dilemma? We suggest that districts that sometimes have excess supplies try to work within their basin, or with neighboring basins to mitigate the impact of SGMA on the local area. Of course, this will require the potential beneficiaries of this water to pay a fair and equitable price to MID. The MID directors have a responsibility to their constituents who have paid taxes for decades and brought in millions of acre-feet of surface water during MID’s existence.
We hope the Valley and its people can work together to maximize the utilization of our available water. Sadly, as we have seen over the past 30 years or so, that once Valley water is appropriated for environmental purposes (whether legitimate or not), it is lost to the Valley forever.
The following will have a lot of abbreviations so buckle up. The California Department of Water Resources – DWR – had divided the southern San Joaquin Valley into nine hydrologic sub-basins. Under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – SGMA – each sub-basin must have one or more Groundwater Sustainability Agency – GSA. These GSAs are required to submit a Groundwater Sustainability Plan – GSP – to DWR for review no later than January 2020.
DWR will only accept one GSP per sub-basin and most sub-basins have multiple GSAs. Most GSAs overlie an irrigation or water district, municipality or county line.
In order to ensure the expert knowledge and interests of the area are well represented most GSAs have opted to write their own GSP. These individual GSPs will be combined as chapters for the overarching sub-basin GSP; so DWR will only have to review the one plan per sub-basin. For instance, the Kings River sub-basin has seven GSAs. The North Kings GSA’s GSP would be more than a foot thick if printed on paper. Stacked on top of one another all seven GSP chapters of the Kings River Sub Basin would be about five feet high.
The taxpayers of California pay the state to hire trained employees at DWR to read these plans. Most folks don’t have the luxury to hire someone to read the plans or the time and patience to do so themselves.
However, there is good news. Much of each chapter is redundant to the other chapter. For example; within the same sub-basin each GSA is required to use the same methodology to arrive at its GSP findings. This helps with uniformity in style – one chapter won’t be in acre-feet while another uses liters. In other words, you read one methodology you’ve read them all. To further refine your reading task each GSP has an executive summary. This passage sums up most of the information in the overall GSP and will save a lot of time, eyestrain and stifled yawns.
Under SGMA GSAs are required to release drafts of the GSPs for review to only counties and cities. However, most if not all of the GSAs in the San Joaquin Valley have opted to release public drafts of their GSP for comment. Not all GSPs have yet to be released but most have and the remainder will soon follow. They are available online.
In the Southern San Joaquin Valley from north to south the sub-basins are:
It’s time for growers to start preparing for the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, otherwise known as SGMA, and groundwater consultant Chris Johnson is here to help.
Johnson, owner of Aegis Groundwater Consulting based out of Fresno, stressed the significance of farmers instrumenting their wells.
“It’s good for them to be able to manage them as assets, and then the data is important to defend themselves if they find they are being lumped in through SGMA and not being effectively represented,” he said.
Being misrepresented under SGMA can be a result of an “index well” data measurement. Index wells are a method of measuring water table levels in the area. However, their location might differ from where a farmer’s well is—meaning the data may not be indicative of the water the farmer is actually using.
Some growers might be concerned that metering their well may put them at risk of exceeding a pre-established limit, but according to Johnson, the meters provide enough data to prevent this from happening.
“The flow rate from the well not only tells you how it is behaving, but it also gives you another number to evaluate what the distribution and application systems are doing, so it’s a check that is available for them as well,” he said.
Farm Bureau Sues to Block Flows Plan for Lower San Joaquin River
By David Kranz, Manager, Communications, California Farm Bureau Federation
A plan for lower San Joaquin River flows misrepresents and underestimates the harm it would cause to agricultural resources in the Central Valley, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation, which filed suit recently to block the plan.
Adopted last December by the State Water Resources Control Board, the plan would redirect 30 to 50 percent of “unimpaired flows” in three San Joaquin River tributaries—the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers—in the name of increasing fish populations in the rivers. The flows plan would sharply reduce the amount of water available to irrigate crops in regions served by the rivers.
In its lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, the Farm Bureau said the flows plan would have “far-reaching environmental impacts to the agricultural landscape in the Central Valley,” and that those impacts had been “insufficiently analyzed, insufficiently avoided, and insufficiently mitigated” in the board’s final plan.
“The water board brushed off warnings about the significant damage its plan would cause to agricultural resources in the Central Valley, labeling it ‘unavoidable,’” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said. “But that damage can be avoided, by following a different approach that would be better for fish and people alike.”
The Farm Bureau lawsuit says the water board failed to consider reasonable alternatives to its flows-dominated approach, including non-flow measures such as predator control, food supply and habitat projects for protected fish, and said it ignored “overwhelming evidence” that ocean conditions, predation and lack of habitat—rather than river flows—have been chief contributors to reducing fish populations.
The water board’s analysis of impacts on agricultural resources “is inadequate in several respects,” the Farm Bureau said. The lawsuit says the board plan fails to appropriately analyze its impact on surface water supplies and, in turn, how cutting surface water would affect attempts to improve groundwater under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act—all of which would cause direct, indirect, and cumulative effects on agricultural resources.
“California farmland is a significant environmental resource, providing food, farm products and jobs for people throughout the state, nation and world,” Johansson said. “Before cutting water to thousands of acres of farmland for dubious benefit, the state must do more to analyze alternatives that would avoid this environmental harm.”
The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 36,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 5.6 million Farm Bureau members.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Following the critical seven-year drought, last winter, the rains came back and filled up the reservoir, but then rain and snow continue to come. Then what happens? More than 56 million acre feet of water had to be released, and it went straight to the ocean.
This past winter and early summer, farmers across California saw it as a great waste of water following that immense drought.
Keith Freitas is a lemon grower in Fresno County. He said the water releases were not in any way sustainable, and this is ironic because the State Water Resources Control Board has put up heavy regulation on farmers with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), soon to impact farmers throughout central California.
“We still had lots of water that we could have done more with, but it was kept from us, and so that’s another element of this,” Freitas said. “If you don’t have an infrastructure in place that could support a plan of sustainability, it’s almost like we’re going to send you to school, but you get no books. You get no pencils. You don’t have paper you. You get nothing to work with. No tools. The water resources control board is, in fact, crippling farmers.”
Freitas said the Water Resources Control Board is looking for an adaptation for the state of California that is not just for the parties that cooked up this false agenda of what’s sustainable and what’s not, but for those voting, to keep those votes in the hands of the people controlling the state and the people that control the state.
“They have made it plain and clear through SGMA that they could care less about how they get their source of food and fiber. They don’t care if it’s quality. They don’t care if it’s secure. They don’t care if it’s ongoing.”
“They could care less as far as they’re concerned. Let the world bring food to California, not California taking food to the world. So that’s a big, big dynamic that’s really changed his whole perspective,” Freitas said.