Sustainable Groundwater Management Workshop, Part 3 of 3: The Valley Ag Water Coalition and the Planning and Conservation League weigh in

Reeb groupLast month, the Brown Administration held the second of two workshops to gather input on possible groundwater legislation to heard proposals from organizations for the key elements and statutory changes needed for sustainable groundwater management.

In this last installment of coverage from the workshop, Robert Reeb gives the recommendations as developed by the Valley Ag Water Coalition.  Jonas Minton with the Planning and Conservation League wrapped it all up with the final presentation.

Robert Reeb, Valley Ag Water Coalition

The Valley Ag Water Coalition is a lobbying coalition in Sacramento,” began Robert Reeb. “It includes about 43 farm water districts, mutual water companies, and ditch companies in the San Joaquin Valley, and the membership runs from Stanislaus County all the way down through the valley and into the Tulare Lake Basin.”

Many of the members of the Valley Ag Water Coalition have adopted AB 3030 plans, groundwater management plans, and while they’ve been commonly adopted throughout the state, certain provisions of AB 3030 are difficult to understand or administer, have not been tested by the courts, and we believe do not provide local agencies with the confidence necessary to make use of certain powers that AB 3030 and the legislature intended those agencies to have, once they adopted a groundwater management plan,” he said.

Reeb 2Our coalition believes that if groundwater producers were required to pay for the quantity of water they extract from the ground, in addition to their pumping costs, that agencies could further encourage conservation of limited groundwater resources, and more equitably allocate the costs of importing water or producing local water to balance the operation of the groundwater basin or sub-basin. The latter includes but certainly wouldn’t be limited to stormwater capture, groundwater recharge, recycled water, and projects that treat contaminated groundwater,” he said.

It was the intent of the legislature to provide agencies who adopted AB 3030 plans with the power to levy replenishment assessments and other general assessments to cover their costs, but agencies have been reluctant to exercise these powers due to a lack of clarity within the statutes, he said. “For example, water code section 10754 grants an agency with a groundwater management plan the powers of a water replenishment district,” he said. “However, only certain powers are granted. Generally speaking, those powers include the ability of a water replenishment district to adopt a replenishment assessment, chargeable on an equal per acre-foot basis, to charge the producers within that district, whether either a condition of overdraft or groundwater contamination is determined. A local agency acting pursuant to the section may not exercise other powers of a water replenishment district, such as implementing groundwater charges or general assessments to cover operating costs, and may not require producers to install water measuring devices on their groundwater extraction facilities unless the agency goes through the process of adopting a replenishment assessment.”

In addition, water code section 10754.2 lacks necessary elements such as requirements to register groundwater extractions facilities, install measuring devices, and report groundwater production data. “While an agency may be able to require groundwater producers to report when acting under the Water Replenishment District Act, it appears it cannot require meters without first adopting a replenishment assessment and it cannot require registration of groundwater extraction facilities, so due to the lack of clarity for the specific procedures for monitoring and implementing charges under these sections and the requirement that an overdraft condition be determined to use water code section 10754, we believe local agencies have been reluctant to implement groundwater management charges and replenishment assessments.” He noted that the a sampling of groundwater management plans bears this out. “We think local agencies are missing out on an important tool that the legislature intended to provide.”

Officals 2Mr. Reeb said that the Valley Ag Water Coalition has proposed language to amend AB 3030 to lay out specific provisions for local agencies to enact groundwater charges and replenishment assessments that lays out a clear process for enacting these fees that is hopefully less open to challenge in the courts. “The benefits of amending these provisions of AB 3030 are twofold,” he said. “First, local agencies will be able to acquire the funds to both purchase replenishment water and operate and administer their groundwater management plan, and second, the charges will provide a valuable incentive to groundwater producers to efficiently use groundwater.”

Their proposal proposes to allow tiered pricing strategies in groundwater management plans whereby users of larger amounts of water or those putting groundwater to new uses could be charged higher rates to reflect the higher costs involved with the additional strain these producers are putting on the basin, he said. “These groundwater charges could only be imposed under our proposal and consistent with existing law after the local agency complies with the process to adopt or amend the groundwater management plan, which includes transparency and due process by providing for various hearings and the opportunities for landowners reject through a majority protest process, in addition to the majority protest process otherwise provided under Proposition 218,” he said.

Mr. Reeb said the Coalition has been working on the proposal prior to the recent momentum groundwater legislation has been receiving lately. “By no means are we suggesting that this is the local thing that needs to be done, but we feel it’s a very important part in conjunction with state financial assistance through water bonds or other means to give local agencies the financial ability to actually get involved in active groundwater management and maintaining those basins on a sustainable basis,” Mr. Reeb concluded.

Discussion highlights

Regarding the ‘white spots’: “When we drafted this proposal, we were doing it within the current construct of AB 3030, which applies to local agencies that provide water service or may be authorized to provide water service but may not be doing so. We recognize in the definitional provisions of what a local agency is that not only could there be the so-called white spots, but you could also have different types of white spots. In some of our irrigation districts, the cities are actually covered within the boundaries of the water district; in others, they are not. In addition, we have investor-owned utility water corporations in a lot of places in the San Joaquin Valley that provide water service that are not subject to Prop 218 because they are regulated by the CPUC, and we also have mutual water companies which are largely non-profit but private corporations, so in looking at that, we felt that it would be necessary to expand on who can do an AB 3030 plan. We think that while it’s not specifically pointed out in the law, that cities and counties would fall under the current definition because both can provide water service even though they may not be doing so. … We may have to look at specifically expanding either the JPA to allow for this particular purpose, corporations to participate where they may not be able to do so under existing law, or allow them to participate through a MOU, which are legally enforceable documents as well.”

Regarding managing data:The Valley Ag Water Coalition very strongly believes that well completion reports and the information therein should remain confidential, so when you look at our proposal, we would require not only the groundwater extraction facility be registered with a local agency, and that would be held confidential, and also the water production statement would be considered as utility usage under the California public records act and that would be confidential as well. We would then roll up that information in a basis that would not identify individuals or properties and be able to use that information in our planning and modeling and such, so from the basis of state technical assistance, I don’t think I’ve heard our members talk about technical assistance as much as financial assistance.” Mr. Reeb noted that in adjudicated basins, the pumping rights have been allocated, but most of the basins he is dealing with are not adjudicated. “Infrastructure – adjudicated basins have monitoring wells to monitor each aquifer layer below them; there’s a lot of data and information they have that a lot of local agencies outside of an adjudicated basin don’t have, so in terms of start-up costs … some initial financial assistance may be necessary to set up the infrastructure …”

Jonas Minton, Planning and Conservation League

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Click here to visit the Planning and Conservation League online.

Jonas Minton began by noting the unprecedented consensus that groundwater issues need to be addressed, and he commended his fellow panelists for developing proposals that ‘sort of’ make sense.

Now there’s some details here, but let me give you the biggest point I’m going to share with you today,” he said. “This is the year to do it. This is not a dry year only problem. This is the time to do it. It’s going to require us collectively to address the issues that have been raised today and others.”

He then discussed four points:

  1. PJonas 1ublic participation: A public process where people can give only 3 minutes of public comment is sometimes not sufficient, he said. “This cannot be driven just by those who extract. It needs to include meaningful participation by those who benefit from the groundwater resource. The disadvantaged communities are the first and hardest hit,” he said. Environmental impacts such as the drying up of streams needs to be represented, he said. While it’s tough, he pointed out that there are precedents where people have successfully come together, citing LADWPs ratepayer process and the Sacramento Water Forum as examples of successes.
  2. Faulty assumptions: Groundwater management entities should not be allowed to assume they will balance their basins by assuming they can fully exercise contractual entitlements, by relaxing environmental standards, or by other methods which balance their basin to the detriment of another, he said.
  3. Water quality:We should be working on collectively and quickly on addressing how we’re going to deal with this interrelationship with water quality,” he said. “Ten miles to the east of there, there’s a big plume of TCE underlying the old Rancho Cordova operations. You can’t manage the groundwater without knowing how you’re going to impact the movement of that plume.  Now we know that there are a whole bunch of institutions already involved in water quality, so what are the interrelationships and how do they work together.
  4. Integrated water management with other entities:So you have this new groundwater management entity such as a JPA; how does it work with the existing water management agencies, which may be solely surface water, or a combination of surface and groundwater? If we are going to fully implement integrated water management, how do they work together? You have an irrigation district, a water conservation district, and they all have their own plans for how they’re going to use their water. So how does that work?

Mr. Minton closed by saying he has cleared his calendar to work on this issue, as it’s a priority to make it happen during this legislative session.

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