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.
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?”
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.
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.