PANEL DISCUSSION: Implementing SGMA – How Are We Getting There?

Panel presentations highlight how the Sacramento Valley, Madera County, Monterey County, and Ventura County are working to establish Groundwater Sustainability Agencies

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), passed in the fall of 2014, established a new structure for managing California’s groundwater resources at a local level.  The legislation requires that by June 30, 2017, locally-controlled groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) must be established in all groundwater basins that are designated high or medium priority.  At the California Irrigation Institute’s 2017 conference, held at the end of January, irrigation district representatives discussed how their regions were working towards forming Groundwater Sustainability Agencies in their regions.

Tim O’Halloran from the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District opened the session with some comments about the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.  “I’ve given a lot of talks on SGMA over the last couple of years and I try to synthesize it down to the simplest level possible,” he said.  “There are two things that the legislation said that really resonate and are key to it. One is that you have to achieve sustainability – and they left that almost wide open as to what sustainability means. They also said that the locals will develop it and determine their own definitions for sustainability as long as it passes DWR muster. That comes with a certain responsibility.  Those of us who were involved in shaping the legislation argued that it should be local control and one size doesn’t fit all in California for water management in general, but particularly ground water.”

We have local control and be careful what you ask for because sometimes you get it,” he said.  “What it means is that we have huge responsibilities as water managers and implementers in this state. With that responsibility comes a lot of challenges. We’re going to hear today from the speakers on different challenges that they’re facing. We wanted to organize this panel to kind of just give everybody a sense of what’s going on in the state around them.”

The main purpose of this panel today is to just expose you to the different efforts that are going on around the state,” said Mr. O’Halloran.  “When you get in your own little world and you’re implementing especially something as difficult and complicated as the SGMA legislation, you tend to feel alone. This is to give you a sense of the other struggles that are going on around the state and the other successes that are going on around the state. With that, I’ll introduce Kristin Sicke and let her take over.”


PRESENTER: KRISTIN SICKE, Assistant General Manager, Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District

The Sacramento Valley groundwater basin stretches from Red Bluff at the northern extent down to Rio Vista at the southern extent.  It is divided into 18 sub-basins.  Ms. Sicke’s presentation focused on six:  the Colusa, Solano, Yolo, Sutter, and North and South American sub-basins.

Ms. Sicke said there are two approaches to governance:  forming your own groundwater sustainability agency and then working with other groundwater sustainability agencies within your sub-basin which would be considered a coordinated government approach; or to get all the agencies together within a sub-basin and to consolidate and form one groundwater sustainable agency or GSA, which would be considered a consolidated approach.

She then discussed each approach for the sub-basins, the stakeholders who are primarily involved, and their role.  She noted that the primary concerns seem to be pretty similar across all these sub-basins.


The Colusa sub-basin is spatially one of the largest sub-basins in the state, covering more than 1,000 square miles.  It originally touched on four counties, but has been modified slightly to be now equally split between Glen and Colusa Counties.  The counties and 15 other local agencies said that they wanted to be GSAs, which created a lot of overlap,” she said.  “The implementation of SB 13 said that there couldn’t be overlap with GSA formation so now both counties have been working facilitation support services from DWR to try to resolve those issues and work towards hopefully one agency for each spatial county. They’ve been looking at two different governance approaches, either a joint powers authority or a memorandum of understanding. They’re both hoping to go towards the joint powers authority approach. However, there are some issues with attorneys and deadlines. Obviously, we all need to get to the June 30 deadline.  They’re going to use the MOU as a backstop.”

County staff, the cities, and the water agencies are involved, and they’ve worked hard to include the private pumpers or agricultural landowners.  “They have formally taken the approach of having a private pumper advisory committee and Colusa County is actually going to have the county board of supervisors appoint somebody from the private pumper advisory committee to serve on the board as a nonmember board representative, which is very interesting,” she said.  “They are working toward multi-agency GSAs and hope to get there soon. The private pumpers are working with attorneys on their own right now to try to form their own district and each of the agreements that are being worked out in each county are going to be flexible for the private pumpers to come in a formal agency or entity later. It’s an interesting dynamic in both of those counties.”


The Yolo sub-basin had three groundwater basins that have been consolidated down to one.  Three reclamation districts had actually opted out of our consolidation process to go with the Solano sub-basin in the Northern Delta.  A basin boundary modification was approved and so they have been working on a consolidated approach of having one groundwater sustainability agency to submit one plan for the whole sub-basin.

The Water Resources Association of Yolo County has been established for more than 23 years, and has a history of groundwater management and monitoring information.  It will be primarily the same group of the WRA that will be moving to the consolidated GSA, plus some new members.

One of the new members is the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation in the Capay Valley.  Ms. Sicke noted that they are in the Capay Valley sub-basin, which was considered a low priority basin, and therefore was not required to participate in SGMA at this time.  “Given our existing credibility, which is Tim O’Halloran, we were able to convince them to join in with us to work towards regional sustainability for the county as a whole,” she said.  “I really just think that speaks volumes to the level of prior collaboration that’s occurred in the county and just the respect for people that have been working in the county for so long.”

The Water Resources Association also asked the Yolo County Farm Bureau to partner in this process, and that has been very helpful.  “They’ve been at all the meetings and they’re bringing all of the agriculture interest to the table primarily with irrigated lands regulatory program,” Ms. Sicke said.  “It’s helpful for us to try to figure out the regulations that farmers are already faced with and how to make this nexus or to make things more streamlined for them to think about SGMA and other programs at the same time.”

The two primary concerns are the wide area administration and private pumper participation, and preserving the jurisdictional authority of existing agencies.  “The wide area administration is pretty much what do you do with the people that live outside of the existing agencies and the political boundaries that are falling to the county,” she said.  “We reached out and spoke with a lot of landowners in Yolo County and they did not wish to have the county be involved or tell them what to do. They’ve been petitioning to us and submitting their parcels to us saying that they want to be annexed into a district. We can’t make that necessarily happen by June 30 so we’re trying to work with them to let them know that in the interim the county will be party to this agreement that we’re working out, and this uber GSA that we’re calling it, and that down the road we hope that they can become customers of existing districts, which kind of helps so that they don’t have to go and form their own agencies.”

In Glenn and Colusa counties, they have taken a much more formal approach with respect to private pumper participation, but in Yolo County, they have struggled with the issue.  “We want it to be organic and we want it to stay within the power of existing collaboration efforts,” she said.  “We’re still kind of on the fence if they’ll take a formal role as a nonmember board seat or if they’ll just kind of be an advisory committee to the GSA. We have to remind ourselves that our mantra pretty much is to keep it simple.  There are so many unknowns in how this legislation is going to play out and it’s hard to get really into the weeds about everything.”

They are considering a joint powers authority as the government structure.  With the regional nature of SGMA, it’s hard not to just get stuck in jurisdictional boundaries and within the confines of what the business structures and mechanisms are that are in place today, but they need to now think about a sub-basin.  “Beyond that sub-basin, we’re all neighbors in the Sacramento Valley Groundwater Basin and we’re all part of the state,” she said.  “We keep trying to remind ourselves that it’s more than just within our little district.”


The Solano sub-basin crosses three different county boundaries:  Solano, Yolo, and Sacramento Counties.  Ms. Sicke noted that the bottom right corner of Yolo County is now still the smallest sub-basin and they’re hoping to do their own process through a North Delta Agency effort and Yolo County be involved with that.  The Solano County staff are very engaged in the Solano sub-basin since it’s primarily within Solano County; the County is hoping to appoint two board members to their JPA that they are working through, she said.  “There are a lot of concerns over groundwater extraction limitations. The agencies that may have worked really hard to bring surface water into the area are concerned that maybe those groundwater extraction limitations will be placed on them and they don’t believe that’s just.”

Some agencies are considering going it alone and they’ll have to work through a coordinated effort with the other agencies that are hoping to join together, Ms. Sicke said.  They are also considering a joint powers authority, but if it isn’t in place by June 30, they’ll have an MOU to fall back on.  “They are appointing two landowners to the board and they’re relying on their farm bureau to help with that, which is good,” she said.  “They’ve had a lot of concerns with the structure and nature of the voting and fees that would be within this new governance structure. These conversations are really tough and it’s hard to get 15 agencies to all agree on what the agreement is going to look like.”


The Sutter sub-basin seems to have a very organic grassroots approach. There have three agencies that have formally noticed themselves through the state to be GSAs; the county is willing to pick up the ‘white spaces’.  “They all seem to have really great communication and they seem to be very transparent,” Ms. Sicke said.  “The county thinks that they have a really good relationship with the ag side of things and they’ve been able to call and tell them what they need. They haven’t had any facilitation, they just are very relaxed about this whole process.”

They have continuity in the data and available resources; they have tried to enlist the same consultants as other sub-basins in their area and they think that’s really helped them.  “Interestingly enough, they’ve submitted an alternative GSP to the state so they think that that will be successful and that they don’t necessarily need to meet the 2022 deadline of creating a brand new plan. It’ll be interesting to see how that works out and if it is approved by DWR.”


The last two sub-basins are the North American and South American sub-basins. The North American sub-basin is shown in pink on the slide; it crosses Sutter, Placer, and Sacramento Counties.  Ms. Sicke said that in talking with Sutter County, they are going to be responsible for that portion of the sub-basin, and Placer County has kind of gone their own way too and they haven’t coordinated much to date.

The southern portion of the sub-basin which is in Sacramento County already has a groundwater management agency known as the Sacramento Groundwater Authority, a joint powers authority that’s been around for 20 years and was already put in place to manage groundwater. The Sacramento Groundwater Authority has served as a great example to a lot of other areas that are trying to form a new agency, said Ms. Sicke.  “They have a 16-member board of directors, it’s cities, counties, water agencies, and then they have two nonmember board seats consisting of agriculture and self-supplied industry. With a lot of people that are trying to figure out how to bring nonmembers onto a board, they’ve turned to this agreement and talked with the Sacramento Groundwater Authority.”

The South American sub-basin, shown in purple, has three overlapping agencies that have submitted to be the groundwater agency; they have not resolved the overlap yet (as of end of January, 2017) .  “It sounds like it’s becoming very contentious but they’re positive that they’re going to get there,” said Ms. Sicke.  “Somehow they’ve submitted an alternative GSP. I’m not sure what that’s going to look like or if DWR is going to approve of it but in my mind, how would you implement a plan if the agencies aren’t getting along to create spatial boundaries? Who knows? Maybe it will be a very successful effort.”


So in conclusion, Ms. Sicke said that SGMA implementation in Sacramento Valley is an unprecedented opportunity to engage in regional sustainability and to locally manage the groundwater.  It’s been very thoughtful and stakeholder driven with facilitation support services and a lot of outreach to the agriculture interests. It’s been very helpful to build on prior collaborative experience and existing credibility. I think that if we didn’t already have that for us in Yolo County, we’d be a lot further behind than we are today. We created new relationships and built trust through this process that we wouldn’t have if SGMA wasn’t in place, even though a lot of people are frustrated about it. I think that’s a positive thing to look at.”

Ms. Sicke said that they’ve had to think outside of political boundaries, which is difficult because that’s how they’ve already been doing business.  “Through this process we’ve considered the profound practical impacts to the agricultural economy or the agricultural community.  Agriculture is extremely important to California and we need to realize that this legislation is very much affecting the agricultural community; and there aren’t a lot of structures in place to get them at the table and to have them participate. I think that you have to all try to work together to get to this common goal of groundwater sustainability over time.”

Groundwater Sustainability Agency formation is really setting the stage to successfully develop and implement a Groundwater Sustainability Plan, said Ms. Sicke.  “I’m really looking forward to actually getting our hands dirty and starting to work on the plan but then also seeing how this plan is going to be implemented.  This isn’t going to be one of these standard plans that we write that sits on a bookshelf or sit with DWR. I think this is something that’s going to be really functional and it’s going to have a lot of political implications in the future.”


PRESENTER: Chris White, Central California Irrigation District

Chris White is general manager and the district engineer of Central California Irrigation District, one of the largest irrigation districts in the Central Valley, serving over 1,600 farms across more than 143,000 acres of prime farmland in Stanislaus, Madera, and Merced counties.  His presentation discussed subsidence in the district’s service area and how they see it tying into compliance with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

He began by presenting a map of subsidence in their service area that occurred between 2012 and 2016.  New subsidence has been discovered in the area just to the east of their boundaries.  The areas in red have subsided 3 to 3 ½ feet.  There are also flood control channels running through the area; the Chowchilla Bypass and the East Side Bypass run right through the middle of the subsidence area.

The Sack Dam is important as it’s the diversion point on the San Joaquin River for Chase Hurley and the Santa Rosa Canal Company. “The headworks at that point were sinking at a rate of about six inches per year and his district was not sinking,” Mr. White said.  “If you’re a gravity district, that’s an important issue. This came to our attention in 2012 and we embarked on trying to work with landowners on the east side, trying to avoid a nuisance lawsuit or adjudication. How can you work with this and actually develop a project that might actually reduce or eliminate subsidence in this area down to background levels?

They met with landowners, and as a result, they decided to do a study to determine a project that would make the the area sustainable.   New agriculture established since 2008 was thought to be the cause of the subsidence.  Both Madera and Merced County contributed to the study, along with local landowners and even the Central California Irrigation District contributed funding for the study, even though it was not in their service area, but to the east of the area where it was occurring.  Mr. White said the study proved out a hypothesis that it is indeed possible to convert this area from a deep aquifer pumping system primarily to a shallow groundwater bank for use on the overlying land.

Stopping the subsidence is important because if it’s not stopped, there will be flooding impacts in western Merced and Madera Counties, including Highway 152, an elementary school, and the City of Dos Palos, as well as valuable farmland and dairies in the area. It also jeopardizes the water supply for San Luis Canal Company and for the Central California Irrigation District – they could lose up to 20% of their ability to take water off of the river.  It also jeopardizes the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, as there are several projects in that section of the river.

There is a significant risk here of the State Water Board through SGMA becoming involved in the management of this area,” Mr. White said.  “I would say just that statement and that fact has been very helpful for us to put a project together with our neighbors.”

What is subsidence? Mr. White presented a graphic, noting that the left hand picture shows an unsubsided piece of ground.  A deep well is pulling water from below the Corcoran clay; a shallow well is above the clay.  “When it’s perforated below the clay and you over pump it, it reduces the overall pressure of that zone,” he explained.  “The pressure is part of the structure that holds the clays apart. As you reduce that pressure, they squeeze down and you see the land subside. The left hand block is an unsubsided block. The right hand block shows what happens to the clay. It primarily squeezes down. It goes from about 40% porosity down to 10% or less.”

The picture on the left bottom is showing a gas well sticking out above the ground; he noted the landowners painted it orange at the ground surface, and it’s now sticking up out of the ground eighteen inches.  The pictures in the middle and the right are where they poured a concrete slab at the surface of ground, and as the ground subsided, the well is now protruding out of the ground.

The Chowchilla and the East Side Bypass are flood bypasses that are going to need remediation eventually as they’ve lost capacity.   There are two areas that are going to need some work and some remediation eventually where we’ve lost capacity.  It is affecting 8 miles in Madera County and 6 miiles in Merced County. The capacity of the bypass is 16,500  cfs design capacity.

The top graph shows a profile survey by DWR to understand how much subsidence had occurred between 2008 and 2013.  The plot on the bottom shows how much subsidence in each location overall.  “At the beginning on the right side near Road 9, we saw two feet by 2012 and three feet by 2013,” said Mr. White.  “In the middle there next to Road 4, we saw up to five feet of subsidence over those five years.”

He then presented the map of subsidence with the location of the water districts in the area.  “We’re all struggling here to get our SGMA compliance in place, to form our GSAs, get our GSP,” Mr. White said.  “This happens to be in two counties we’re looking at. The river is the subdivide. You have Merced County on the west side or Fresno County on the west side and Madera County on the east side. The districts on the west side, CCID (my district), St. Louis Canal Company, Chase Hurley, Fireball Canal Water District and Columbia. Those are exchange contractors districts and about nine months ago we became the sole GSA for our area and we’ve been working on our GSP ever since.”

One of the elements of our sustainability plan is to help deal with the subsidence in the next basin over to the east of us,” he said.  “In that area, there is Merced Irrigation District; they’re in the process of forming GSA.  There is the Chowchilla Water District; they’re in the process of forming GSA.”

The county is in the process of forming a GSA to cover the areas between the exchange contractor’s districts and the other districts.  They have been working with landowners in the area and their vision is to form their own water district to manage the water supplies they need to manage as part of this program, and to have their own GSA coverage, he said.  In the middle, there’s the proposed Triangle T water district, which was just approved through LAFCO.

He presented a map of the area just to the east of Sack Dam, which is located at the headworks of the Arroyo canal.  “Sack Dam is located about a third of the way up the map at the head works of the Arroyo Canal.  That’s a site that was sinking at a rate of six inches per year.  We’re working with specific landowners within this area; there are 24,000 acres that need to have some kind of solution in order to slow down or stop subsidence. We have some champions in this area, about 15,000 acres of landowners who are working with initially in order to make this project happen.”

Mr. White next presented a map showing the landowners, the Triangle Ranch and the block Ranch.  The flood control channels are highlighted on the map, so they can pull flood waters off when available and use them for recharge; there’s also a sinking pond to get water into the ground.  “Our studies show that over the long term with the frequency of flood that we see either coming down the San Joaquin or the Kings River, there’s enough flood water here to tank that shallow groundwater up,” he said.

In addition, they need to get supplemental supplies to that area.  “In order to get water directly into the subsidence area close to Sack Dam, we worked with the landowners on a plan to install a pipeline underneath the river on the west side from Arpozo Canal. You see there’s a red arrow towards the north part of that map is where that pipeline is located.  We just finished it.  We have built this project all the way to the connections. The connections are not quite completed yet but that can be done after these flood flows are out of the system. ”

This year, they have been able to divert water off the bypass system and they are pushing water into the recharge pond.  “We’re recharging out here right now about 250 acre feet per day … We’re looking at a really healthy recharge here.”

In terms of the project, they need to complete the subsidence and wheeling agreement with the two landowners.  “I’m optimistic that we’re going to have that agreement in place,” said Mr. White.  “As part of that agreement, we’re agreeing to wheel water for them through our system. They’re agreeing to be very careful with their pumping and not cause subsidence. We’re circling around what that means. We’re trying to avoid adjudication and we’re trying to take care of it through the SGMA process.”

We want to continue to revive the existing districts and formation of the new ones to manage water supply, subsidence and SGMA,” he continued. “There are some additional projects that need to be done in the area; we’re probably about 70% done.  We need to curtail subsidence and help our neighbors comply with SGMA.  In our sub-area, which is west of the river, outside the zone causing subsidence, we believe we’re going to be able to comply with SGMA and have a good GSP in place.”

Subsidence to date has been reduced by about 50% just because of the knowledge that growers have out there that if you pump a deep well, it causes subsidence. If you pump a shallow well, you’re not causing subsidence.  Just from management, we’ve reduced subsidence pretty significantly. I’m very hopeful with the flood flows that are out there and the fact that we’re tanking up that shallow groundwater, that we’re on the front end of the successful phase of this project.”

SGMA GSA Formation: Completion requires commitment

ROBERT JOHNSON, Monterey County Water Resources Agency

Robert Johnson is Deputy General Manager of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency in charge of water resource planning and management division.  His focus lately has been the recently passed Sustainability Groundwater Management Act implementation for Monterey County and the Salinas Valley.

Mr. Johnson said he wanted to talk about an overlooked concept that he sees as critical to the success of implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, and that concept is commitment.  “Commitment can usually be tied to something like Olympic training – the athletes are committing to working hard to get that gold medal. Or commitment can be related to marriage or to even parenting. Frankly, if you’re not committed to marriage or parenting or Olympic training, you are going to fail. That’s what happens here with SGMA and GSA formation.  We have to focus on the fact that failure is not an option on formation of GSA. Otherwise, you can look forward to the state coming in and managing your basin.

I’m just going to talk a little bit about how we got there and how we realized that completion really does require commitment,” he said.  I’ll talk about how we have focused on the spirit of SGMA as well as the ability to commit to working through challenges, which there wasn’t many at the beginning, but now there’s been a lot more as the deadline comes closer.  And really a commitment to complete on time.”

Monterey County is home to an $8 billion dollar ag industry with about 300,000 acres of irrigated land; the next biggest economic driver is tourism at about $2 billion. The Salinas Valley is dubbed ‘the salad bowl of the world.’ However, there is sea water intrusion and nitrate issues. The average groundwater use is about 550,000 acre feet a year, with a 90/10 split between agriculture and urban.

Groundwater is the primary source of supply and storage. The groundwater basins are the Pajaro Basin, the Salinas Valley Basin, the Carmel Basin, and the Seaside Basin.

The average outflow from the Pajaro River is over 100,000 acre feet; on the Salinas River, over 300,000 acre feet; and on the Carmel river, over 70,000 acre feet.  “These are the resources that are really going to have to be leveraged to bring sustainability about,” he said.

He next presented a graph of sea water intrusion that has been occurring in Monterey County since 1933, and has been moving forward.  “This should look familiar to anyone who has seen a DWR webinar or presentation because we were the poster child for what they use for an undesirable outcome,” he said.   “The 180-foot aquifer was used first and then as that one became salty, they just drilled deeper to the 400-foot aquifer. There’s actually another aquifer underneath that we have yet to see sea water intrusion in.”

What did we do to really commit ourselves to the spirit of SGMA and what is the spirit of SGMA?,” Mr. Johnson said.  “When you’re trying to go out to the public and try to tell them that there’s this whole new paradigm on ground water management and the public comes up and says, you’re going to take my water – No, we’re not taking your water. You’re taking your water. Actually, it’s the state’s water and then you get into this whole dialog …

SGMA brings about a new paradigm for groundwater management,” he said.  “The legislation talked about the establishment of the GSAs. You have about 25 years to bring your basin into sustainability for the next 50 years. Another good thing about Monterey County is we have basins with all criticality levels. We’ve got critical, high, medium, and low. We’re working to try to balance everything in one plan and so it’s taking some time.

“As I’ve been going through this process, I feel that the real spirit of SGMA is diversity and the diverse interests that are represented or can be represented by SGMA,” he said.  “In 2015, our agency, the county itself, the farm bureau, grower shippers, and Salinas Valley Water Coalition retained a professional facilitator because we knew early on that to get through this effort, we were going to need some professional help.”

The collaborative workgroup has representatives from all different interests: the agencies, the county, cities, special districts, PUC regulated water companies, environmental groups, multiple agricultural representatives, disadvantaged communities, and small rural well owners.  “Really diverse interests make for interesting meetings, especially after hours,” said Mr. Johnson.

The collaborative work group has had 16 meetings over the last 18 months.  They have received a lot of public input and possible ideas on how to move forward.   They have also had four larger stakeholder forums where they bring other folks into the process.  “At the beginning, we had the environmental folks and the agricultural folks just fighting with each other. Literally, just back and forth, no way this is going to happen.  We go out to large stakeholder groups now and we have the environmental people explaining the agricultural side to the other environmental people. We feel that the process is working.”

After months of deliberation, the collaborative work group decided to move forward with a groundwater sustainability agency that is a joint powers authority.  In October, they reached consensus on what the potential agreement would look like, and then the Marina Coast Water District, a small water district near the coast, filed a notice of intent to manage their portion of the basin. There was a basin boundary adjustment that helped that go along.

They filed to cover their service area, which extends beyond their official boundaries,” Mr. Johnson said.  “This is something that DWR and the State Board haven’t ruled on, and SGMA is silent on service area. This is very interesting because a big chunk of their service area, they serve by contract. They’re basically bypassing LAFCO in our mind trying to make this kind of grab. To counterbalance this, the county just went and applied to be the GSA for the same area.  Now we have an overlap, now we have a process. We kind of slowed it down but that’s how we’re kind of working, bringing them back to the table to get them to work with the collaborative working group.”

They are also starting to hear rumblings that some of the southern Salinas Valley cities are researching to form their own GSAs.  “We’ve been working towards this process and now people are feeling that they’re not getting the representation they felt they deserved so they’re starting to kind of look at other options,” said Mr. Johnson.  “The Collaborative Working Group members, the county, our agency, and the city of Salinas are focused on working through these challenges with these folks. We want to make sure we have a successful effort because as I said, failure is not an option. We are meeting with these cities, with these other entities to make sure that we can see what their issues are and if we can come to some common ground.”

The proposed GSA/JPA would be over the entire Salinas Groundwater Basin, which includes part of the Paso Robles Basin, another basin with challenges.  “We’re looking at establishing the area we’re going to manage and then establishing cooperative agreements with the other entities that would be touching those areas,” he said.

The JPA members would consist of GSA eligible entities. They have chosen to have an 11 member board of directors.  They came to an agreement on an eleven member board as it was a manageable size.  “Then agriculture raised their hand and said, and this is nothing wrong, it’s just the process, said we want six seats,” he said.  “We said, if you want six seats, we’re gong to go 15. Then it’s like, no. We’ve committed again to an 11-member board, so how are we going to make that work?

Because of the issue with the board of directors, they have seated an interim board that will be in place until September 30, while they work through seating a permanent board.  Mr. Johnson presented a configuration of the board and noted that the city of Salinas has a seat, a south county city has another seat, and all the other GSA eligible agencies have one seat, a rotating seat.  Disadvantaged communities and small public water systems and CPUC-regulated entities each have a seat; agriculture has four seats, environment gets a seat and public member gets a seat.

Mr. Johnson explained the voting structure.  He said a board has a majority and a super majority.  They broke the type of votes into two types of actions: transactional and transformational.  “This was a really good concept,” he said.  “It allows us to break everything out underneath it. A majority for transactional vote is just basic majority vote, six positives or six negatives out of the 11. Super majority is eight and that’ll be for transformational actions like adoption of the groundwater sustainability plan, amending the budget, or the withdrawal or termination of members.”

He said that they were able to get agriculture to agree to four seats by adding a super majority twist on specific terms.  “A super majority is eight votes but three of the four Ag votes have to also be in support,” he said.  “That is for the imposition of fees, not prop 218 or prop 218 fees. If we’re going to do fees, the ag groups have to say yes. Or the limitations on well extractions, pumping limits, that kind of thing.  If we’re going to limit well extractions, we need three of the ag votes to say yes. We plan on lots of communication, not only from the group, but the public too.

The interim board will sit until September 30; they will hire the executive director and a consultant for the plan itself.   The members of the collaborative working group will have the opportunity to be an advisory committee for the full board.  “After spending 18 months and 16 meetings so far, they’ve gained a lot of knowledge, which I think is very important,” he said.

In summary, Mr. Johnson said that through the process, the collaborative working group was committed to the diversity that SGMA is all about and bringing those people to the table.  “I’ve heard of other collaborative working groups that are only staff people of GSA eligible entities; that would not work in Monterey County, that’s just our dynamic,” he said.  “We’ve also committed to working through challenges and I think we’ve shown that and we will continue to show that all the way up to the deadline and through it. We are committed to a solution; we are committed to completing on time.”

To really wrap this up, through this process, we have really seen that if we do want to complete this on time and get buy in from everybody, that completion does really require commitment,” concluded Mr. Johnson.

SGMA Implementation flexibility and adaptability – examples from Ventura County

PRESENTER: Tony Morgan, United Water Conservation District

Tony Morgan, Deputy General Manager for groundwater and water resources at United Water Conservation District in Santa Paula, began by noting that the United Water Conservation District is a little bit different than most water conservation districts. “No, we do not give out low flow shower heads, low flow toilets, rain barrels, or things like that,” he said.  “Our mission is to replenish the aquifers within eight groundwater basins that lie within Ventura County. We have a lot of things going on, a lot of SGMA and GSA formation things.”

Mr. Morgan then presented the five stages of groundwater management:  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.  “I don’t care what DWR says, these are the ones I account for at every single meeting I go to. I have to gauge where is my audience at in this process. We were heavily in the denial at the beginning … These are the five stages.”

There are several groundwater basins in Ventura County.  The Santa Paula basin and the Ojai basin are adjudicated; then there is Piru, Fillmore, Mound, Oxnard Plain, Pleasant Valley, Las Posas, Arroyo Santa Rose, and the Upper Ventura River.  “We have lots of overlying water agencies,” he said.  “We couldn’t do this if there wasn’t complications in overlap and things like that. This is water, it can’t be simple. It has to be complicated.”

The Calleguas Municipal Water District is a State Water Project contractor; they are pretty much the sole source of water for the town of Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks and almost 100% dependent on northern California water.  “We come almost to the Ventura/LA county line and all the way to the coast and then all of the plain basically is our territory,” he said.

What kind of challenges are they facing as they try to develop GSAs and then ultimately GSPs?  Mr. Morgan laid it out.  “We have jeopardy biological opinions for fish and steelhead trout at our Freeman Diversion.  At our dam, the Santa Felicia Dam, which creates Lake Piru behind it to capture the runoff and then release it strategically during the year to replenish the aquifers typically in late September, early October.  There are entities that are dabbling in our business. They want you to release water when they want it released and they want you to release the quantity that they want released and they want you to not divert water at times when they don’t want you to divert water. It’s on ongoing situation.”

Another complication is that about ten days ago, they received a letter from State Fish and Wildlife that quagga mussels had been detected at Lake Piru.  “The letter said, ‘if you release water from the lake, you are in violation of state law because you’re letting an invasive species out,’” said Mr. Morgan.  “We said, okay. We sent the letter to National Marines Fisheries who says, thou shalt release water from that dam to maintain habitat downstream. We said, ‘could you guys get together?’ The feds said, ‘we don’t have to talk to anybody, we’re the feds.’ The state says, ‘we’ll fine you.’ We’re looking at it ourselves internally and then we’re looking at the agency and saying, come on guys, get in the same room and let’s figure out what the plan could be.”

Mr. Morgan said they also have chlorides coming down the river, some of it from the Santa Clarita area and their waste water discharge plants coming out with elevated chlorides in the groundwater. There is seawater intrusion at the coast.  They have saline water, methane, and overdraft.  “We have wells right now where the water level has dropped so far that they have methane from those oil and gas deposits coming into their water well. If you drop an oily rag on fire down the well, it will ignite and explode. Some of those wells we discovered about six months ago are pumping crude instead of water.”

Nitrates are a problem, a result in part of legacy agricultural operations, as well as a large number of septic tanks.  The area has now been sewered so they are hoping to see nitrate values decrease over time.  Then there is the drought and declining water levels.  “Right now, you would expect seawater elevations to be about zero, close to the coast maybe or somewhere thereabouts.  Eight miles inland right now is where sea level is in the aquifers. We’ve got definitely a very large hole that we’ve created for ourselves there and we’re going to figure out a way to get out of it.”

Mr. Morgan then presented a graph of storage in the Forebay basin, explaining that the part of the basin where the spreading operations occur is called the Forebay Basin.  “We have nearly 400 acres of spreading grounds there that we divert water off the Santa Clara River when it’s there, spread it into those basins and replenish the aquifers there,” he said.  “We calculate how much room do we have in that Forebay.  Today, I could take 128,000 acre feet and put it in the ground tomorrow and have plenty of room. This number has been calculated since the 1930s and this is the lowest we’ve ever seen. The 80,000 available acre-feet of storage represents if the water elevations are about sea level, we would have 80,000 acre feet of available storage to extract there.”

He noted the precipitous decline and said, “What we’ve learned is that we can hold on for about three years of drought like we’re seeing right now and then the water table starts to rapidly decline.

In terms of sustainability agencies, Santa Paula and the Ojai basin are adjudicated.  The Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency was declared in the legislation as the named entity for its area, and a cooperative of three different entities, Camerosa, Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency and city of Camarillo are dealing with Santa Rosa Basin.  The Upper Ventura River formed an agency recently and just had their first meeting.

In terms of approaches, the Mound Basin which basically underlies the city of Ventura, everybody was discussing who was going to do it, and there are overlapping boundaries.  “What we decided to do was a time out and that’s our memorandum of understanding. It basically says, we’re going to agree to talk before any of us unfurl our GSA flag and plant it in the basin. We’re going to talk. It’s nonbinding. If you don’t like what you’re hearing, you can get out but at least we’re going to talk first.”

They are working to create a joint power authority.  At the stakeholder meeting, they had a group of agricultural pumpers who wanted a role, so they adjusted the JPA document to make it more inclusive of the new group.  Ultimately, that JPA will become a GSA.

The Piru and Fillmore basins are closest to the LA County line, and they have a much different demographic, mostly large agriculture.  “I would guess between both basins, about 85% of that is agricultural extractions in there. Those folks were very progressive. Early on, they started meeting. They called it their pumpers association. Anybody who extracted groundwater was eligible to attend and be a part of it. They’ve been very creative, very passionate about not waiting for this.  They want this done. If you corner them in the parking lot or at Starbucks, they’ll tell you hey, I’ve got a business to run. Get this figured out and let’s get on with life. They’re obviously in the acceptance category on the five stages.  They want this done, figured out, move on. What’s the new reality we’re going to live under? Let’s go with it.

The Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency is a large part in the middle part of the county. They were listed in the legislation.   The Oxnard Plain, Pleasant Valley, and Los Posas  basins are managed by Fox Canyon.

The most interesting comment I got on the first day we did our SGMA presentation, what is SGMA, what do you have to do, that kind of thing, a guy comes up to me afterwards and says, ‘here’s my pieces of paper.’ I said, ‘okay.’ He says, ‘I didn’t know what form to fill out so I just wrote it out on a paper, I do hereby bequeath to you all of my water rights, signed John Smith,’” said Mr. Morgan.  “The misconception was that they were going to give away their water rights and that someone else was going to manage it all. We had a lot of communication and discussions to say, no, this is not my decision. This is your decision on how this is going to work. It’s got to satisfy DWR and we’ve got to meet the goals but it’s your decision to figure out how we’re doing it.”

The Mound and Piru basins are going to each have their own groundwater sustainability plan, but one GSA will administer both basins. “The board on that JPA would be composed of a representative from the city of Fillmore, the county, United, and each one of the pumpers associations,” Mr. Morgan said. “The pumpers associations are open to anyone who extracts groundwater. A mutual can be a member and have their representation through that pumpers association. The environmental groups that are extractors; when the TNC does farming operations on some of their land right now, they pump groundwater. They are members of the pumpers association there. They have a mechanism to have their voice heard as well.”

They also have a basin boundary issue to deal with.  Neither the Mound basin or the Piru/Fillmore basin group were ready during the first basin boundary adjustment window; it just wasn’t physically possible to get it done.  They are now in a situation where the June 30 deadline is looming and the next basin boundary adjustment window is in 2018.

We’re trying to figure out if we use Bulletin 118 boundaries for these, we know that we’re going to include people who should not be included in the basin,” Mr. Morgan said.  “We’ve gone and done our hydrogeology, done our mapping,  and gone to DWR, and DWR has said they aren’t going to look at it until the next window of time is open. We said, if we use your DWR boundaries, then these people who pump over here are really on the hillside, they’re out of the basin, they shouldn’t be in there.   If we use ours now, then we’ll capture the proper set of people. DWR’s, excuse my expression, crayon drawing of the boundaries decades ago, and they’ll admit that, we’ve got a far sharper pencil than we used to have and I think we can do a better job. Nonetheless, this is a stumbling block for right now and we’re having meetings with DWR trying to figure out what’s the path forward that causes the least muss and fuss.”

With Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency, they came ‘out of the gate hard.’  “They were in the legislation, they stuck their hand in the air immediately and said, we want the baton. They got the baton,” he said.  “When I use the analogy, they came out of the gate hard, it’s been like riding a bucking bull. A lot of things are going on. They’ve got some good things going on. They have formed a technical advisory group to look at hydrogeology and water budgets.  Those people were appointed by the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency board. There are seven people on that panel and they meet at least monthly. Their job is to figure out the sustainable yield.”

There are separate stakeholder groups, one M&I and one ag that are deciding what to do with that yield.  The pumpers on the Oxnard Plain and Pleasant Valley Basin are looking at some significant cuts.  They are trying to figure out how they will allocate those cuts; there’s a water market group looking at that as a possible tool to minimize the impacts.

Mr. Morgan then used pie as an analogy.  “The technical advisory group has sustainable yield; the question on their plate is, how big is the pie? The allocation group is how big is my piece of pie? We have a water market group that says, how can I get more pie? The group that’s missing right now and we’ve begun to discuss it is an infrastructure or replacement group that says, I can get different flavors of pie or how do we replenish and get more pie in there to be divided up? Maybe I want surface water, I want recycled water, I want brackish treated water, whatever the flavor is, there has to be a system for physical getting wet water into the system and moving it around.”

He last presented a graph of groundwater elevation, noting that the groundwater elevation is in blue and the chloride concentration is in green.  “After the last drought, late 1980s, early 1990s, we hit 10 thousands parts per million chloride at our sentinel well up the coast. As we’ve gotten water levels back up, we saw it decline; this decline didn’t happen in a couple of years, it took place over a decade or so and then the next drought came. We saw the water levels and we saw a chlorides respond, they’re now at about 1760 in this well at the coast. We know we have seawater intrusion occurring. We’ve just got to figure out a way to deal with it.”

Mr. Morgan then concluded with some words of encouragement.  “I thought of no better person than that famous philosopher of Evel Knievel who said, bones heal, pain is temporary, and chicks dig scars.”

Thank you.”

Coming up tomorrow …

  • More from the California Irrigation Institute Conference:  Growers give their perspectives on SGMA Implementation.

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