Groundwater Agencies Formulating Plans for SGMA

Groundwater Sustainability Will Be Focus of New Rules

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Groundwater agencies up and down the state are formulating initial plans for growers in their areas to reduce overdraft pumping of groundwater as they prepare for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act regulations that will kick in around 2040. Ron Samuelian is a civil engineer with Provost and Pritchard consulting group, with offices around the state. He spoke with California Ag Today about their role as an engineering firm regarding helping growers with SGMA.

Ground Water Pumps

At the moment, a lot of the work is related to a plan. Using hydrogeology, they are figuring out the water budget, its impact, the amount of overdraft occurred, and how to monitor this in the future.

“But maybe most importantly, how are we going to fix it and what are we going to do about it? I think that is where we really come in. We understand not only ag but, urban and all of the other uses,” Samuelian said.

The goal of SGMA is to be in balance in 2040.

“In terms of sustainability over time, we have seen a decline in our water table. At a given well, the water level might bounce up and down, but the general trend has been to decline a 1 to 5 feet a year, depending on location,” Samuelian explained.

In 2040, the trend is supposed to be flat.

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California Farm Bureau Sues Water Board on Proposed Water Grab

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.Tuolumne River-Modesto Irrigation District

“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.

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William Bourdeau Speaks Out About SGMA

William Bourdeau: Surface Water Must Be Tied to SGMA

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

William Bourdeau is Vice President of Harris Farms, a Director of Westlands Water District, and Chairman of the Board of the California Water Alliance. Bourdeau recently talked to California Ag Today about the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which will force growers in 2040 to keep the water levels in their wells in balance and not allow over-drafting.

William Bourdeau

“It’s mostly about living and growing up in the community and hearing about what the people did when I was still young,” Bourdeau said. “I understand that we were over-drafting the aquifer in the early days of agriculture on the west side of the valley and some very innovative, pioneering individuals figured out how to solve the problem. They built the Central Valley Project and delivered surface water. And if you look at the statistics, the problem was nearly solved. It’s only started to become a problem when the surface water deliveries have been cut off as a result of the biological opinions.”

“I can’t understand why that we can’t solve this problem. And I do think surface deliveries need to be tied into SGMA,” he said.

Bourdeau said he believes that the problem can be solved and not be detrimental to the environment.

“But any solution must consider humans and our needs … surface deliveries need to be incorporated into the plan,” Bourdeau added. “We need to use sound science, and it needs to be peer-reviewed.

“We need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to preserve a domestic food supply capability. I think it’s in our national interest. … It’s a national security issue,” he said.

Bourdeau believes that we need to get away from looking at these very narrow issues and look at the big picture.

“We must find a way to do what’s best, and not all the decisions are going to be desirable, but I do think we can. We can make decisions that solve the problem and don’t take this wonderful resource out of production.

As a director for Westlands Water District, Bourdeau said no stones will be unturned for compliance to SGMA.

“We’re doing everything we can to try to make sure that we manage this situation to the best of our ability and our growers are represented in a way that they will succeed in the long term,” he said.

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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.”

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Almond Farmer Fights Back Against the State Water Grab

“Hundreds of Years of Property Rights Taken Away”

By Hannah Young, Associate Editor

More than 1,000 farmers, stakeholders, and supporters attended a rally in Sacramento protesting the California Water Resources Control Board’s proposed water grab.

This water grab will affect the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers, redirecting 40% of the water to increase flows for salmon population.

Tim Sanders, an almond grower in Stanislaus County, described the catastrophic effects this water grab will have on Valley farmers.

“The scarier part about this, they’re trying to change hundreds of years of water rights,” Sanders said. “If they can take our water rights with this grab, they can take anybody’s water rights, so everybody in California should be concerned about this.”

Sanders explained how this is proposed water grab is a real government overstep.

“Our area is one of the few areas in the state that aren’t in extreme overdraft of groundwater, and it’s because we can do irrigation,” Sanders said. “We can recharge our aquifers all the time.”

If the state takes surface water from these growers, they will have to rely on their pumps extracting water from the ground, which could put them in a situation where they’ll be impacted by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

“We’ve got a good system working. They just need to leave us alone or come to us at the table and be willing to compromise, talk to us,” Sanders said.

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Study Forecasts Cost of Regulations on California Citrus Industry

Citrus Research Board Explains Cost Impacts on Growers

News Release From California Citrus Mutual

New regulations are expected to cost California citrus growers an average of $701 per acre per year, or $203 million annually statewide, according to a new study commissioned by the Citrus Research Board (CRB).

“Compliance with environmental regulations not associated with groundwater sustainability is estimated to increase costs by $17.7 million, or $67 per acre of citrus,” predicts Bruce A. Babcock, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Public Policy at UC Riverside who authored the study. “New labor requirements will increase costs by $112 million, or $357 per acre, once they are all phased in.”

“Babcock has presented a well-researched economic report that shows how new regulations will increasingly impact California’s citrus industry,” said CRB President Gary Schulz.

The report, Impact of Regulations on Production Costs and Competitiveness of the California Citrus Industry, also predicts that controlling the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) “will increase costs by $65 million, or $248 per acre per year, if controls are extended to all citrus-growing regions.” Compliance training costs are estimated to increase costs by another $29 per acre, or $7.5 million for the state citrus industry.

“As I read and reread Dr. Babcock’s report, two things kept jumping off the page: one, ‘Cost increases borne by California’s citrus but not by … other citrus growing regions decrease the future competitiveness of California’s citrus industry’; and two, ‘… future compliance with these regulations is estimated to increase costs by $203 million, or $701 per acre per year,'” said California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen. “When the cost of citrus at store level gets too expensive, consumers look for lower priced fruit. This UCR report paints a clear path for policy makers if their goal is to drive the citrus industry out of California and onto off-shore production areas.”

The 20-page report includes a breakdown of increases in labor costs, including California’s minimum hourly wage increases, which are scheduled to rise in annual increments to $15 over the next four years. The report also covers the projected cost increases of recent state legislation dealing with paid sick leave, payment rates for rest and recovery periods, overtime and workers compensation.

The section on insecticide treatment addresses grower cost of spraying for ACP, even though the severity of the problem currently differs greatly in various areas of the state. If ACP establishes itself in all citrus regions in the state, which the report says is “almost inevitable,” control efforts would amount to $39.5 million per year, according to Babcock. This would be in addition to the state-mandated tarping of fruit that is transported to packinghouses, at a cost of approximately $9 million per year.

According to the report, The Food Safety Modernization Act, which was passed in 2011 and is still being implemented, will not require major changes for growers who are already GFSI-certified (Global Food Safety Initiative compliant).

The impact of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is hard to predict, according to Babcock. “It will not be possible to calculate the impact of SGMA until each basin’s groundwater sustainability plans have been finalized,” he states. “Without new surface water supplies, it seems inevitable that some farmland that currently relies on groundwater will need to be fallowed to balance withdrawals with recharge rates.”

Babcock, a Fellow of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, has won numerous awards for his applied policy research. He received a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics from UC Berkeley, and Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from UC Davis.

The CRB administers the California Citrus Research Program, the grower-funded and grower-directed program established in 1968 under the California Marketing Act, as the mechanism enabling the state’s citrus producers to sponsor and support needed research. The full report on the Impact of Regulations on Production Costs and Competitiveness of the California Citrus Industry, as well as more information about the Citrus Research Board, may be read at www.citrusresearch.org.

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Temperance Flat Denied Funding

All Hope Dries Up

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Again, it came down to fish, specifically Chinook salmon, that forced the proposed Temperance Flat Dam out of the race for Proposition 1 funding for building new water storage projects.

Mario Santoyo and Temperance Flat Denied Funding
Mario Santoyo fought hard for Temperance Flat Dam funding.

For more than 20 years, the Temperance Flat Dam proposal was passionately advocated with unwavering support by Central Valley cities and the San Joaquin Valley Infrastructure Authority (SJVIA) who were behind the application. Temperance Flat came crumbling down Wednesday at the California Water Commission (CWC) meeting in Sacramento on the second day of discussion.

On Tuesday, CWC staff members assigned to crunch the Public Benefit Ratios for the project were solidly encased in concrete, refusing to grant the project any consideration for its ecosystem restoration benefits. The Dam would provide critical cold water to flow down the San Joaquin River, thus helping the salmon spawn.

CA Water Commission kills Temperance Flat funding
CA Water Commission denied funding for Temperance Flat Dam.

And while the official public benefit calculation came up short today, proponents already saw that the project was already on life support Tuesday, with a dire prognosis.

“Stunned is an understatement,” said Mario Santoyo, executive director of the SJVIA, who has worked for more than 18 years on the project. “Temperance Flat is the most critical water project ever proposed for the Central Valley, which is ground zero for significant water shortages that will not go away.”

It all boiled down to the Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment (EDT) model that was approved by Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources. Despite both approvals, that model did not jive with the Commission staff’s model, which undervalued the project’s public benefit ratio, killing the opportunity for Temperance Flat Dam to receive funding of more $1 billion for construction.

“We are working in an area of great uncertainty in professional judgment,” Bill Swanson, vice president, Water Resources Planning & Management for Stantec, a global planning and engineering firm, who presented data for the SJVIA. “We do not have fish in the river. We do not have empirical data. The only issue available to us is a comparison of how the system would respond to changes in flow, temperature and habitat,” Swanson said.

“That’s the reason we used the EDT model, the same model that the Bureau of Reclamation has used in their models of flow,” Swanson explained. “The SJVIA’s challenge was how to take the results of that model and analyze them to a level of detail that distinguishes the precision that we might want to have around the results,” said Swanson.

Bill Swanson
Stantec’s Bill Swanson advocated for Temperance Flat Dam funding.

“I’m very disappointed with the way they scored a great project that needed to be built,” noted Santoyo. “And I am not happy about one commissioner from Orange Cove who stabbed us in the back and scolded us on why we did not meet the Public Benefit Ratio. We did meet and exceed that ratio, but the CWC disagreed with our ecosystem restoration model that had been used by both the state and the feds.”

Several Water Commissioners publicly wrangled with their staff on how they could make the project work. They sought areas to increase the project’s cost-benefit evaluation to get it funded.

Commissioner Joe Del Bosque read the ballot text of Prop 1, approved by California voters by 67 percent in 2014. He reminded those present that voters expected a water storage project to be built, adding, “We need to find more certainty in order to get Temperance Flat built.”

Commissioner Daniel Curtain distinguished two parts to the discussion—physical and monetary. “Take a look and see if there is a physical benefit for ecosystem restoration. Finding a potential benefit and attaching a potential monetary benefit could be helpful,” he said.

The project was also short on points for recreation opportunities on what would be a new lake behind the 600-foot high dam east of Fresno, behind Friant Dam. Commissioner Joseph Byrne said he hoped for more thought given to the recreation cost benefit. “Intuitively, zero benefit does not make sense. We need a higher level of confidence in the estimated recreation cost-benefit,” he said.

CWC staff stipulated that while the newly created lake behind Temperance Flat Dam would accommodate boating activity, the lack of camping, hiking, and other activities within the existing San Joaquin River Gorge neutralized any recreation benefits.

If built, the Temperance Flat Reservoir would contain 1.26 million acre-feet of new water storage above Millerton Lake, northeast of Fresno. Temperance would have helped provide a more reliable supply of fresh drinking water for disadvantaged Valley communities. It would have enabled below-surface groundwater recharge, addressed extreme land subsidence and provided critical help to farmers facing severe groundwater restrictions due to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

Santoyo said the SJVWIA spent more than $2 million on the California Water Commission application, utilizing what he said were the most qualified engineers to develop the technical data required by Commission staff. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which administers California’s Central Valley Project for the U.S. Department of the Interior, has invested more than $38 million in studying the project. Santoyo said those studies supported the finding that the selected Temperance Flat site is the most preferred location for such a crucial project.