Groundwater problems and prospects, part 4: Toward groundwater sustainability planning in an agro-urban basin

Yolo County fields sliderboxTim O’Halloran discusses the challenges of implementing the new groundwater legislation on the local level

The provisions of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act call for local control of groundwater by establishing Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to manage the groundwater basins or sub-basins, and to accomplish this feat by June 30, 2017.  In some areas of the state, these agencies are already set up, but in other parts of the state, new agencies will have to be formed.  This requires bringing all the stakeholders together to develop a plan to manage their groundwater basin sustainably – not an easy task.

With this in mind, the fourth lecture in the California Water Policy Seminar Series, presented by the UC Davis School of Law and the Center for Watershed Sciences, focused on the challenges of implementing the new legislation on a local level.

tim-ohalloranThe speaker was Tim O’Halloran, manager of the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, an independent special district that manages surface and groundwater resources as well as flood control for 195,000 acres of Yolo County.  The District includes four cities and tens of thousands of acres of farmland.

The previous speakers have covered the basics of groundwater and the new groundwater legislation; Mr. O’Halloran’s speech instead focused on how a local agency would go about implementing the legislation.   “It’s a bigger story than just how we take the legislation and implement it,” he said. “It’s the background. … You can’t implement legislation, you can’t implement regulations without understanding the political background, the hydrologic background, the geographic background and so on and so forth, so I’m going to try to provide you with a little of that.”

But first, he began with a humorous story.  “It was a little over a year ago,” he said.  “I got a call from Cal Fire saying, ‘Your reservoir is on fire.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, my reservoir is on fire?’ It’s in a basin, under hills and bushes and trees above it. And I said, ‘You mean the bushes are on fire? The hills are on fire?’ And he said, ‘No, your reservoir is on fire.’ They were just laughing and I knew they were yanking my chain. So I finally figured it out.”

OHalloran_Page_02When the reservoir was built, the Indian Valley Reservoir was built in 1976, one of the requirements we had with Fish and Game was to leave the trees in there for fish habitat refuge and for the fishery,” he continued.  “And so at this point the reservoir is down to 6% full. … A 300,000 acre foot reservoir, it was down to about 15,000 acre feet. All the trees were exposed and there was the local yahoos were out there burning down the trees. So my reservoir’s on fire. So I took that as a new definition of a drought for a water manager is when you get a call that your reservoir’s on fire, you know that you’re in a drought.”

Surface water and groundwater are connected, Mr. O’Halloran said. “They go and make legislation that separates the groundwater from the surface water in terms of most of it,” he said. “So I’m going to talk about first surface water in Yolo County as well because I believe personally as a water professional, you can’t talk about groundwater without understanding the interaction of the surface water component with it.”

One of the biggest questions facing Yolo County is how sustainable is the County’s groundwater, he said. “To answer that question, you have to answer the question, ‘what does sustainable mean?’ “I deal with a lot of private well owners and they say, ‘Can’t I just dig, drill a deeper well than my neighbor? Isn’t that the solution?’ The analogy in the flood world is you build your levy higher than your neighbor’s levy so that the water will all go to him or her. In groundwater, the analogy is the inverse of that – you did well deeper so that his well dries up and you’ve got the water at the bottom. That’s one of the questions we’re going to have to answer on the local basis as we implement this legislation.”

He then gave some background on Yolo County and its water sources. “There are four cities in Yolo county: West Sacramento, Woodland, Davis and Winters,” Mr. O’Halloran said. “Right now, Woodland, Davis, and Winters are on groundwater. West Sacramento is on surface water from the Sacramento River, and Woodland and Davis are involved in a big project to switch from groundwater to surface water.”

OHalloran_Page_07The Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District manages the Cache Creek watershed, he said. “Mostly it’s in Lake County,” he said. “Clear Lake is a natural body of water … Indian Valley reservoir is a man-made lake built in ’76. Those are the two main sources of water. It captures about 60% of the watershed.” He noted that the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conversation District delivers water from the west, the Coastal range, out to the east, to the Yolo by-pass.’

OHalloran_Page_06There are numerous water districts and reclamation districts that touch or are a part of Yolo County, Mr. O’Halloran said. “The significance of this is that the legislation calls for working together,” he said. “It’s tough. Everybody has their own priority, their own turf, their own authorities and all that. The legislation essentially calls for all of us in here to work together and develop something that will sustain the groundwater in the region.”

Mr. O’Halloran noted that there are the federal, state, county, and city governments, and then there is another layer of government called a ‘special district.’ “Flood control, water conservation districts, irrigation districts, cemetery districts, mosquito vector districts and others, it’s a really fascinating area of government,” he said. “I’ve worked in special districts my whole career, and I like it a lot. I encourage any of you looking for jobs to think about special district activities, because it’s where the rubber meets the road.”

He explained that they are called special districts because they have duties specific to one area, I his case, it’s water. “We don’t have broad police powers like the county or state or federal government,” he noted.

OHalloran_Page_08The Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District has three sources of water supply: Clear Lake, Indian Valley Reservoir, and riparian rights on Cache Creek, he said. The dam was built over 101 years ago not on Clear Lake but on Cache Creek, which is the outlet of the lake.

Mr. O’Halloran said when it comes to Clear Lake, his district’s interests are exactly opposite those of Lake County.

OHalloran_Page_09During the summer, they like to keep the lake level high for recreation purposes, and during the winter they like to lower it so that they don’t get flooded along the rim of the lake as there are housing developments along the rim of the lake,” he explained. “Yolo County’s interests are exactly the opposite. During summer, we like pulling the water out to irrigate crops and produce food, and during the winter we love to store water so that during the summer there’s a lot. Over the last 100 years, there have been a series of decrees culminating with the Solano Decree. We couldn’t go to Lake County to get the judge to decide, and Lake County didn’t want to come to Yolo County, so we went over to Solano County. The judge decided this decree and what it did was it spelled out how we operate the storage and the flood releases at Clear Lake, and it’s meant to balance the competing interests of the lake and other downstream users.”

OHalloran_Page_10The District operates Indian Valley Reservoir which has a hydroelectric plant and some recreation facilities, he said.

OHalloran_Page_11Sixty miles downstream from Lake County is the diversion dam outside of Capay is a 500-foot inflatable bladder diversion dam, he said. “It’s like a big long linear inner tube that we inflate during the irrigation season.”

It pushes water out through the Winters Canal and the Adam’s canal,” he explained. “As you drive through rural Yolo County, you see a series of open ditches. That’s a 160 miles of down system which is integral to the groundwater story.”

The diversion dam is a key piece of infrastructure for western Yolo County, Mr. O’Halloran said. “Without it we would have a very different landscape in Yolo County, if this dam wasn’t providing a diversion for surface water that permits people to use surface water instead of groundwater.  During the winter the dam is down, as we have flood flows.”

OHalloran_Page_12He presented a map of the canals and laterals that he manages within his district, noting that it’s a fairly natural, modified slough system that’s been in place since the 1800s.  “The punchline here is that we want to take the storm water and move it through the 160 miles of online ditches and recharge this groundwater, and do it in a environmentally sustainable way. That’s called “conjunctive use”, where you use groundwater and surface water as one economic unit.”

OHalloran_Page_13He showed a picture of the Winters Canal, which is an unlined canal. Mr. O’Halloran noted that back in 1989, there was a deal between the Imperial Irrigation District and Metropolitan Water District where Metropolitan paid to line IID’s canals in exchange for the conserved water. “Every once in a while I get asked, ‘Why don’t you line canals here? It’d save all the water.’ We’d lose 25% of our water,” he said.  “For every 100 acre-feet we release from the reservoirs, we only sell 75. What happens to the other 25? Well, some of it goes to evaporation. Some of it to plant life, but most of it goes back into the ground, and that’s our main storage unit in Yolo County. It’s not Lake County reservoirs, but the groundwater underneath the Yolo County so by district policy, we don’t line canals.”

It would be a tragedy from a water supply perspective to lose that natural recharge,” he said. “And essentially, when California went to irrigation in the 1900s, they lost a lot of riparian habitat that existed in the natural system, so we’re in a sense duplicating that natural system planting native grasses and plants along the canal system.”

Mr. O’Halloran then turned to Integrated Regional Water Management Plans. “It’s a state initiative that the Department of Water Resources is in charge of,” he said. “It’s a fancy acronym but it really means something pretty simple, which is ‘Work together, consider all the resources that are water-related as you do a project, and consider what your neighbors are doing and how it affects your neighbors.’

OHalloran_Page_14In Yolo County, there is an organization called the Water Resources Association with ten members that include cities, water districts, and reclamation districts. “We get together on a regular basis and plan our resources, and one of the cornerstone projects that we have is an IWRMP or Integrated Regional Water Resource Management Plan,” Mr. O’Halloran said.

The plan considers five categories: water supply and drought preparedness, water quality, storm drainage and flood control, aquatic ecosystem enhancement, and recreation. “Starting in 2005, the Water Resource Association membership got together and said, ‘Let’s throw all of our projects and all of our thinking on the table and develop an IRWMP,’” he said. “So we created it and it’s our guiding document. It’s our road map for integrated water management in Yolo County.”

OHalloran_Page_15He noted that similar efforts are occurring statewide, so they are not necessarily unique, but what is unique about them is that they have had a Water Resource Association for 20 years that has brought them together to manage water in Yolo County.

It’s a long document and Mr. Halloran said he wouldn’t go through it all, but there’s one thing in particular he wanted to highlight. He explained that when the group first met and put all the projects on the table, the county had 20, his district had 10, the city of Davis and the University had a project as well, and every time something came up with a project, there was a scramble over data.

We said, ‘This is crazy. Every project costs twice as much and takes us three times longer to do because we have to recreate databases and information management every time somebody wants to do a project. So, let’s develop a sustainable information management program,’” he said.

OHalloran_Page_16The foundational actions for the plan include groundwater monitoring, surface water monitoring, subsidence monitoring, groundwater modeling, climate change models, environmental and aquatic habitat monitoring and topographic mapping, and it is all entered into the Water Resource Information Database, he said. “Even in tough budget times which we’ve all experienced here in the last few years, we’ve protected the funding for this action, because once you have a hole in your data it becomes a lot less valuable,” he said.

Mr. O’Halloran said that he did a lot of testifying at the capital and talking to legislators during the development of the groundwater legislation, and he found it ironic that people were saying ‘Nobody knows what’s going on out there – we need data.’ “The irony of that is that there’s data all over the place. Google ‘California groundwater database and you’ll get about seven major database efforts that are taking place,” he said. “Everybody likes to create a database, but nobody likes to maintain it or even worse, nobody likes to look at it and use it.

He then presented a slide showing Yolo County’s groundwater monitoring program, noting that the dots represent monitoring locations that goes into a public database. “You can log on to it and if you wanted to know what the groundwater contours for the last 30 years are in the City of Davis, you can do that,” he said. “Having the data and actually understanding it … It used to be in water districts that you’d say, ‘Don’t give up our data because they’ll sue you over it.’ But I’m in the district that takes a different approach of being very transparent and open with the data. My rule is, it’s not who has the data that wins the day, it’s who understands the data and can argue what it says. And so we were very open and we tried to organize it so that the public can use it.

Mr. O’Halloran showed slides from the integrated groundwater and surface water model, noting that models help predict the impacts of different projects. He next presented a slide depicting their subsidence monitoring, which also goes into the database. “All that information goes into this database that’s maintained by the Water Resource Association and again, it’s accessible to the public,” he said.

Mr. O’Halloran then addressed the groundwater legislation, noting that he would focus more on what the legislation means to his organization and Yolo County. “Locally, we didn’t wake up last January 1st or even when the governor signed it in August, and say “Wow, where did that come from?’” he said. “We’ve been working on it for years.”

At the beginning of the process of developing the groundwater legislation, he said he gathered Farm Bureau people and others involved in resources and told them they had to be active. “We have to be to be engaged. We have to influence the legislation. We have to make sure that they don’t do anything unreasonable and that it achieves what everybody wants, which is everyone’s groundwater to be sustainable. How you get there and how you accomplish that is the battle.”

OHalloran_Page_22The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act passed on August 29th and became effective on January 1st, 2015, he said. “It’s 98 pages, but in laypersons terms, it boils down to are you sustainable or are you not, and if you’re not sustainable, you have to do some things to become sustainable with groundwater, and if you are, you’re exempt.”

Generally, sustainability means bringing the basin into balance by eliminating overdraft, but it gets more complicated than that,” he said. “There are water quality components to that and what not, but in laypersons terms … I say that what we have to do in Yolo county is organize ourselves so that we either prove or improve the sustainability of the groundwater.”

The groundwater legislation has requirements for high and medium priority basins, he said. “There’s a common misunderstanding about what priority means within the legislation,” he said. “When you see your basin classified as ‘high’ or ‘medium,’ it evokes feelings of ‘Geez, we’re in trouble – we’re a high priority; we must be doing something wrong here.’ It actually means nothing like that. DWR came up with the criteria where they were developing the CASGEM Program.”

We actually are in pretty good shape in Yolo County, but we’re a high priority. We actually are in pretty good shape from a sustainability standpoint,” he said. “But that gets lost because people interpret priority to mean that there is a problem.”

The groundwater basin areas and priorities are defined by DWR, and they are developing a process to amend basin boundaries as they are defined in Bulletin 118, Mr. O’Halloran said. Particularly at issue are the ‘sub-basins’, he said. “It’s really a political question of governance rather than an engineering question of sub-basins, because the sub-basins were somewhat arbitrary in how they were created,” he said. “We presented a case for using political boundaries – county boundaries, and leases in the areas where it’s appropriate, and they’re going to consider that as they develop the process to amend basin boundaries.”

The first step is to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency, or a GSA. “It’s the first step for the locals putting together the governance, who is going to be in the GSA, what authorities are they going to have, and how are they going to implement the authorities at the groundwater basin,” he said. “The main thing that GSA is yet to do is develop a groundwater sustainability plan, which says, ‘Are we sustainable? And if not, how are we going to get sustainable?’

In Yolo County, there are four sub-basins: one is high priority, two are medium priority, and one is low priority, he said. “What it doesn’t say in here is that of those four basins, two of them are completely in Yolo County, and two of them are partially in Yolo County,” he said. “One is north of Cache Creek that goes from the midline at the Yolo County up through Sutter through Colusa County and up to the north boundary of Glenn County – a huge sub-basin. I have no interest or desire to go up to Glenn County and tell them and participate with them in all these scenarios that are groundwater when there’s nothing they do that directly impacts us, so again pitch to the state was, ‘Let us organize our boundary, we’ll make it simple, we’ll be accountable for the checklist of the things that you need us to do, and you can move our feet to the fire to make sure, but don’t make us have an unreasonable boundary.”

Mr. O’Halloran said they already have a groundwater monitoring program in place, and the Water Resources Association is already established in the CASGEM as the state groundwater program monitoring entity. “The groundwater is in generally sustainable shape,” he said.

Solving groundwater issues is a collaborative effort, Mr. O’Halloran said. “Nobody can solve this problem on their own, no single agency,” he said. “Yolo County couldn’t do it, the government agencies couldn’t do it, and the water district couldn’t do it. There are land use authorities and my organization doesn’t have any land use authorities; the cities and the county have land use authorities, so they needed to be part of the game. But what was mostly forgotten are the people there at the Yolo County Farm Bureau who represent the private land owners in the county. What was missing was the integration of the private landowners and the private pumpers, so we went to the field early on and said, ‘You join us, let’s work together and make this agreeable piece of legislation, let’s make sure that it accomplishes what it’s intended to accomplish.’”

OHalloran_Page_28It was our previous work that put Yolo County in a strong position: our regional multi-agency groundwater level monitoring network, the real time monitoring sensors, the database, and groundwater model, he said. “We’re at a fork in the road right now as we approach the formation of GSA, and already people have said, “Who’s going to tell me I’m have to shut off my groundwater? Are they going to tell me in the middle of my cropping season, are they going to tell me ahead of time?

The practical functional question is whether Yolo County groundwater is sustainable and will it continue to be sustainable, he said.

OHalloran_Page_30He then presented a graph of the average depth to groundwater showing 40 years of groundwater monitoring. He noted the deep drought in 1976-77, and the droughts in 1991 and 2009. “The real take away message from this graph is that Yolo County has a 40 year history of sustainability. I call this sustainable – the water goes up, the water goes down, but there’s been a history of recharge and recovery.”

With the extremely low precipitation last year, the groundwater did not recover quite as strongly, Mr. O’Halloran noted. Quite a few domestic wells were lost last year; they are typically not as deep as the ag wells, so they are the first to experience problems, he said. “The big question here is this going to recover this year,” he said. “From a historical perspective, I can make a pretty strong case with DWR that we’ve been sustainable through the years.”

OHalloran_Page_32The next question is will Yolo County continue to be sustainable. Mr. O’Halloran presented a chart from the Yolo County Health Department for permits for groundwater wells, and noted that there was a steep increase in well permits in the last year.

There’s over 120 permits; this is all new demands,” he said. “There is a huge conversion in land use taking place now where range land used to just be non-irrigated, there are now permanent crops. You see trees, new orchards going in everywhere, and that has an effect. If there was a drought, people would plant weeds or some low use crop, but once you put in an almond orchard or a walnut orchard, or pistachios or olives or something that needs water every year, that’s what’s called “hardening demand”. Every year now, that demand is not going to go away.”

A lot of new wells and a lot of new trees have come in the last year, and I don’t know what the potential is, he said. “But from a policy perspective, when you think of it in terms of forming a Groundwater Sustainability Agency, if it’s sustainable then it probably doesn’t matter who the GSA is. I’m not going to have to worry about somebody telling me to turn my pump off or not planting my crops or to do anything like that.”

But if it’s not sustainable, and I think it’s very questionable whether the we’re sustainable in the Yolo county right now with the groundwater, it matters a lot,” Mr. O’Halloran said. “Why does it matter? Because this GSA has been granted by the legislature some very serious authorities, including proposing and updating fees, and monitoring compliance and enforcement. Enforcement means you’re going to have to register your well, you’re going to have to report how much water you’re using on in annual basis, and you’re going to have to turn it off if you’re counted unsustainable.”

The local people are getting nervous, he said. “They start coming to me and asking, “Who’s going to be in charge here? And who’s going to vote when we create this GSA? Are the cities going to have all the rights? Are they going to roll over the rural areas? How’s that going to work?

So Mr. O’Halloran has been giving talks to organizations such as city councils, landowners groups, the county, and has sent out a draft resolution asking for support for the Water Resources Association in coordination with the Yolo County Farm Bureau and other interested parties, to serve as a planning forum for determining the GSA. “I believe once we get in the room, and start deciding the main questions that need answered – if it’s not the Water Resources Association, it’ll be something that looks like it and that would be collaborative in nature. It won’t be one uber-agency holding everything.”

OHalloran_Page_38Mr. O’Halloran said that you can get into a mentality of dividing the pie up – how much groundwater do we have and how are we going to decide who gets how much. “Yolo County’s in a wonderful position; we get quite a bit of runoff,” he said. “In 2006, we had over a million acre feet of stormwater leaving the county going out to the ocean. Some of that’s good – some of it’s headed for environmental benefits, but we’ve pulled a portion of that off – 50,000 acre feet out of a million. That’s a year’s supply of the cities of Davis and Winters. So we have opportunities in Yolo County … The main thing what we’re looking for locally is to increase the size of the pie rather than just divide the pie up as it exists today.”

We’re at a key point in time in California water,” he said. “People have pushed for groundwater legislation since the 1800s, and it finally happened last year. We either embrace and work with it, or have it fail.”

When I got here 11 years ago, I asked, ‘What are the past water decisions?,’” he said. “I’ve got four examples.  The first is that Yolo County was asked to participate in what was called the “Solano Project” in the 1950s, and for reasons that made sense in the 1950s, the Yolo county elected not to participate in the Solano Project. But now, new water quality regulations came into place that force the cities of Davis and Woodland to deal with water quality discharge issues that if they participated in the Solano Project, they would’ve avoided about 200 million dollar treatment project. So sometimes the decisions you don’t make are as important as the decisions that you do make.”

He said there was a decision regarding flood control in Cache Creek in 1958. He explained that Cache Creek is at risk for flooding during big storms, and Woodland has only 10-year levees. “I had never heard of a 10-year levy – I thought they were kidding me,” he said. “And I said, “10 year levy, what’s that about?” Turns out, at the time they were planning on building a big reservoir up in Cache Creek Canyon – the Wilson Valley Dam. The way the federal money came was you get more money if it solves more problems, so they didn’t want to solve a political flood problem and take away federal funding. … As it turns out, it was an inappropriate site anyway – economically, geologically, environmentally, it just didn’t work. So Woodland is left holding the bag 50 years later with a 10-year levy protection.

Clear_Lake WikimediaOn a more positive note, there was the purchase of the Clear Lake water company in 1967. “This was a private entity like PG & E and government-regulated by the PUC,” he said. “We bought it for two million dollars with all the waters rights to Clear Lake, the storage rights and also the infrastructure. And even better, they financed it with paid revenue bonds so the company that sold it to us essentially loaned us the money to do it. The only bad news is it’s a 100-year old system that hadn’t had much maintenance done on it for 100 years. So, we’re been trying to play catch up with that.”

His last example was the construction of Indian Valley Reservoir, which was built in 1976 and financed by the Yolo County, which includes the cities of Davis and Woodland. “Why would the cities pay for the farmers fee to get more water? Well, we went on a political campaign and we used groundwater data that we have, and we showed the connection between the urban area and the rural area and the water use in the urban area. The cities of Davis and Woodland are both using groundwater, and have been using groundwater. 80,000 acre feet average annual supply comes from the Indian Valley Reservoir and maintains the system that Davis and Woodland and Winters uses.”

It was a very collaborative effort. It really changed the dynamics of the water and water politics in Yolo County and a great example of very proactive engagement … I hope that as we enact the groundwater legislation, we would be as wise as they were back 40 years ago in doing this,” Mr. O’Halloran concluded.

Questions and answers

Question: What do you think is the best way for the State to deal with increasing of the planting of permanent crops? Could there be agricultural zoning?

Answer:One thing that I didn’t say about the groundwater legislation that is really critical is that the premise of it is that local people can control the groundwater better than the State,” he said. “The State is one size fit all organization. So, I don’t see any statewide solution. … Certain areas of the State, if Yolo county can develop more water, we don’t have to create more wells. We can just maintain the groundwater. … Other areas down in San Joaquin Valley, they’re going to have to adjudicate … I believe they won’t say what, they probably can’t plant this crop or that crop. They’ll say, “Here’s the water supply that you can have, you decide how many acres and what crops you’re going to use”. So, if you want to 50 acres of local high water use crop or a 100 acres of lower water use crop, that’s your decision. I believe it will play out in that manner.”

Question: The legislation provides a couple of years for local areas to self-organize into Groundwater Sustainability Agencies. Some critics have said that’s too leisurely a pace given the nature of groundwater overdraft. But to the person who’s on the ground, is that two years a reasonable time frame?

Answer:In Yolo County, it’s enough time and the reason it’s enough time is because we’ve got a structure in place with the Water Resource Association and so we have a relationship. Life’s about relationships and relationships are about trust and you trust the people. I can go to the City of Woodland and I know I can get a straight answer from them and County can come to me and get a straight answer from me. We have a 20 year history of working together and with IRWM. I think we’re in great shape. There will be a lot of dirty work to be done, a lot of hiccups along the way, but I think we can get there. I would not like to be somewhere in the San Joaquin Valley or even in the Sacramento Valley where there’s no existing organization … They have to start building these relationships among the players and all the interested parties … It’s politics, so obviously it’s a tough deal, it’s a dirty business, and that’s essentially what you’re setting up is some government organization that has authorities to tell private institutions what to do and what not to do. That brings out some of the best in people and some of the worst in people. It becomes a challenge.

Question: Another criticism of the legislation is that it doesn’t mandate the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies include a requirement for individual well reporting of extraction levels. We had a prominent water law attorney last week remark that most people believe that information was required and that local groundwater sustainability agencies will incorporate that as part of their plans, but that for political reasons, they didn’t want that as a mandate in the legislation. Does that track your experience in terms of the likely result in Yolo County? And more broadly do you think that groundwater well reporting will be required as part of the most groundwater sustainability plans around the state?

Answer:I think most will go to some sort of reporting. I’ve got mixed feelings of it and I look at it from an engineering perspective rather than a legal perspective. If I’m buying a pound of coffee beans and it says that in each bean, there’s a 1,000 beans in there, I don’t care if it’s a 1,000 beans, I weigh it and if it weights one pound, it’s good enough for me. I don’t care if there are 999 or 1,001. So I look at the groundwater map, I showed you all the dots on there, is that enough dots? Is it too many dots? How much information, how much data do you need to know to make a decision? … From an engineering perspective, you can argue pretty strongly that you don’t need individual reporting. But from a governance issue, from a politics issue … you can’t make decisions and you can’t manage without data. So generally speaking, so I’m torn on the issue. If you’re sustainable and you’ve got enough wells, but not every well has a meter, then why do that expense? It’s just an overhead burden.”

Thomas Harder noted that there are numerous groundwater management plans done under AB 3030 and SB 1928 that covered parts of Yolo County. How will those groundwater management plans inform the groundwater sustainability plan if at all? And what are we going to do about those areas that are currently outside of any groundwater management plan area?

Answer: There are actually seven AB3030 plans which were the precursor to this legislative act where you put together a groundwater management plan. They certainly will be looked at, they’re not in isolation; they will be used to inform the groundwater sustainability plan. … The Groundwater Sustainability Agency has to create a plan. Will the plan be one complete plan or will it be seven groundwater plans? And the way I see it playing out is they’ll be one overriding plan, but it’ll have chapters in it. And those chapters will look somewhat like the AB3030 plans or a newer version, an updated version with more requirements and thoughtfulness put into them.”

The second part of your question about the blank areas, there are parts of the county that don’t have AB3030 plans … I think it’ll be handled individually. I think there’s an area called Yolo-Zamora, it’s in the north east section of the county. They were going to get water through the Tehama-Colusa canal and then water never showed up, so they’ve been sinking groundwater, and they have subsidence … I think we will create either a sub-agency up there or they will join Reclamation District 108; Westland’s Water District down in San Joaquin Valley has an A area and a B area, and they have slightly different rules for the different areas, so I could see part of the Yolo-Zamora area coming into the local county flood control district as the B portion for groundwater monitoring purposes or flood management, where they wouldn’t have a right to the surface water we have because we can’t get it to them anyway. … I envision everybody being covered. There won’t be anyone left out. It will become obvious to anybody that’s not covered that they better find shelter somehow. They better get their act together, otherwise the state will take over.”

Question: You talked about the tension between using the Bulletin 118’s basin boundaries versus political boundaries. Can you maybe go into some more depth about that and what you think would be a more effective thing, or does it depend by region which one’s better?

Answer:It depends by region.  If you’re down in the Mojave desert, and you have a sub-basin. It’s pretty discreet, but if you’re up in Yolo county, next to Colusa County, next to Glenn County the lines are pretty arbitrary. … I was asking one of the guys who was instrumental in putting Bulletin 118 together. I asked him how he picked that spot because it’s an alluvial basin down to Solano County. He said, “Well, we just thought it was getting too big.” … So, what he was saying was that he just kind of arbitrarily chose sides as a component instead of making them run down to the bottom end of Solano County. … I said, wouldn’t it make more sense to move the boundary to the Colusa-Yolo Political line there where there’s not a water source, so it’s just simpler from an engineering perspective. … There’s always going to be a boundary, and you’re going to have to talk to all your boundary neighbors. So, it led me to believe that the easiest boundary is one that exists on political boundaries. Going back to the questions, “Is it really more of an engineering problem or a political problem?” I believe it’s a political problem, so if you make the boundaries on a political basis, it helps you organize.”

For more information …

To watch the lecture, click here.
For Tim O’Hallorans full power point, click here.

Coming next week …

Posting next Thursday, David Orth with the Kings River Conservation District will discuss groundwater management practices for local sustainability.

For more from the California Water Policy Seminar Series …

This is the third year that Maven’s Notebook will be covering the series at UC Davis.  Previous speakers have included John Laird, Mark Cowin, Felicia Marcus, Tim Quinn, Jay Ziegler, Ellen Hanak, Michael Lauffer, Ronald Robie, Harrison ‘Hap’ Dunning, Michael Rosenzweig and many more.  You can access all coverage from all years in the archive here:  California Water Policy Seminar Series Archive


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