SGMA IMPLEMENTATION: Groundwater sustainability goals and challenges

Groundwater managers working in four critically-overdrafted basins discuss how their planning efforts are going

In basins all over California, groundwater managers are focused on developing their groundwater sustainability plans to meet the deadlines set by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).  For groundwater basins designated as critically-overdrafted basins, the 2020 is right around the corner.

At the spring conference of the Association of California Water Agencies, a panel discussion brought together groundwater managers in four critically overdrafted basins to discuss their near-term goals and regional challenges in complying with SGMA.

Seated on the panel:

The panel was moderated by John Woodling, ACWA Groundwater Committee Chair and Vice President of GEI Consultants.

During the session, the panel members were asked a series of questions.  Rather than writing it up chronologically as I generally do, I have instead assembled the information into a profile for each basin.

TRI-COUNTY WATER AUTHORITY: Deanna Jackson, Executive Director

Deanna Jackson is Executive of the Tri-County Water Authority, a JPA that was created to be a Groundwater Sustainability Agency for approximately 110,000 acres located in the center of the San Joaquin Valley between Bakersfield and Fresno.  The GSA consists of four member agencies: Angiola Water District, the Deer Creek Storm Water District, W. H. Wilbur Reclamation District #825, and the County of Kings.  The GSA also has an MOU with Allensworth CSD (SDAC) and an MOU with the County of Tulare to cover additional undistricted areas.

The Tri-County Water Authority’s service area spans across both Tulare and Kings County and has two subbasins, the Tulare Lake subbasin and the Tule subbasin.  On the map, the dark yellow lines are the county lines; on the bottom is Kern County and the Kern subbasin.  On the left hand side is Kings County and the Tulare Lake subbasin; the Authority is the hashed yellow area.  The red line on the left hand side is I-5, so they cover the area that spans from I-5 to the Kings-Tulare line.   On the right hand side is Tulare County and the Tule subbasin and the area outlined in white is the Authority’s service area within that basin.

The two different subbasins have chosen two different paths for groundwater sustainability plan development:

In the Tulare Lake subbasin, there are five Groundwater Sustainability Agencies who are developing one plan, so they have hired one consulting firm to write the plan for the subbasin and one hydrologist to do the technical data to be included in that plan.

In the Tule subbasin, there are seven Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, six of which are developing their own plans.  The seventh agency is the County of the Tulare which was the backstop for undistricted white areas; the County has entered into MOUs with three of the agencies to cover those white areas within their groundwater sustainability plans.  The six groundwater sustainability agencies developing plans have their own consulting firms so there are six firms developing six individual plans.  The subbasin hired one hydrologist to do the basin setting work; the Tri-County Water Authority has a hydrologist doing individual work specifically for their service area.  The Authority is also working on the coordination agreement between the agencies to complete the process for submittal to the Department of Water Resources.

Question: What are the primary interest groups in your GSA and governance concerns?  Do you see any needed changes in governance that might help you going forward?

Ms. Jackson said that agriculture is really the primary interest as their area is entirely zoned for agriculture; they do not have any municipalities.  They also have a large portion of federal lands owned by the Bureau of Land Management as well as state lands with wildlife concerns.

They do have the community of Allensworth, which is a severely disadvantaged community.  The Tri-County Water Authority worked with the Community Service District there to develop an MOU that covers the next 20 years.  “We said, we can cover you,” Ms. Jackson said.  “’We are not going to charge your community anything.  This is how much water you use.  As long as it’s a reasonable level, we’re going to take care of this community at no cost to you.’  So we include them as stakeholders and that helped to alleviate their concerns.”

Their stakeholder groups have been very robust with attendance from state and federal concerns as well as agricultural stakeholders, large and small.  Governance came together fairly easily as the area is mostly agricultural, she said.  They have a five member board; the County did not want to sit on the board and be a voting entity but rather they just wanted to be involved and be heard.  The Board meetings are very open and all are welcome.

In the future, I don’t know that the governance will change,” said Ms. Jackson.  “I think we’ll have to consider more outside of just Tri County Water Authority.  I think we’re going to be seeing a larger scale as we move forward in working together, but I don’t see the governance of Tri-County particularly changing moving forward.”

Question:  Where are you at with your GSP development process?  You’ve have a January 2020 deadline, so what is the most significant hurdle on the critical path to GSP completion that keeps you up at night?

Ms. Jackson said that for both of their subbasins, they are on track to meet the deadline, although she acknowledged a hiccup could derail either one.  “The thing that truly keeps me up at night is subsidence, our biggest issue,” she said.  “In the Tule subbasin, we have the Friant Kern Canal which has sunk and lost capacity, and it affects not only the Tule subbasin and agencies within that subbasin, it also affects Kern.  It’s very important critical infrastructure.”

The process of coordinating within the Tule subbasin is difficult because of that because when it comes to coordination, there different concerns so there are different people that want a different path to ending subsidence,” she said.  “So instead of having the 20 year glidepath, there are portion of coordinating entities that want a 1 year glidepath, so I think that is going to be the most difficult hurdle to completion of coordination in that area. … The Tulare Lake plan development has been a little bit smoother.  We’ve actually already set our public hearing for December 2, so on the Tulare Lake side, it seems to be very smooth.  The coordination agreement in the Tule, I think specifically because of subsidence, will be difficult.”

Question: With respect to water quality, unlike the other undesirable results that have been largely unregulated, groundwater quality and surface water quality has a robust program of regulatory structure around it.  So for your GSA and your GSP, how are you handling the issue of water quality concerns?  What do you see as the GSA’s role in potentially affecting better outcomes for water quality?

Ms. Jackson said that for them, water quality has morphed.  “When we first received instruction from the Department of Water Resources, we very much looked at water levels and stabilization of water levels and being concerned where we might move plumes of contaminants, but we’re seeing that they might want more of a little bit robust discussion of water quality in the plans,” she said.  “We will incorporate information from the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program and the IRWMP projects and information, but we still believe the stabilization of groundwater levels will stop the degradation of water quality, so as the water stabilizes, we think that will probably meet what we need to do to comply with SGMA.”

Question: How are you financing your GSAs and the development of your GSP?  How do you see that changing moving forward, after the GSP is developed?

Initially, they received seed money from the agencies and they applied for grant funding.  The Tule subbasin received two rounds of grant money, and the Tulare Lake basin has received one.  The Tri County Water Authority held a successful Prop 218 election and charged on a per-acre basis on parcels that were 5 acres or larger; in the first year, they were too late to put it on the county tax rolls so they invoices directly which resulted in a lot of phone calls.  This year, they were able to roll it on the county tax rolls which has gone much more smoothly.

That fee will sunset in five years and at this point, they haven’t concluded if it will be replaced with a land-based fee, a pumping fee, or a combination thereof.  “Our Prop 218 was pretty slim and it’s just going to be enough to get us over the line with our plans,” she said.  “We don’t have funding for projects and things of that nature which is a problem so we will be relying on the private growers for the projects.  I think that might have to change, but initially this is where we’re starting.”

Question: There have been a lot of planning efforts going on over the last few years: Integrated Regional Water Management Programs, urban water management planning, ag water management planning, etc.  How are you using those other planning processes that went before as a foundation and get benefit from that while now carrying out a regulatory program?

Ms. Jackson said that streamlining the regulatory process will be key.  “There’s a lot of overlap and SGMA doesn’t need to recreate the wheel in some of these areas,” he said.  “We don’t have urban water plans to contend with, and or even agricultural water management plans in my service area.  Tulare County updated their county plan and specifically to be incorporated into the SGMA planning process so we’ll look at the county plans for incorporation, but basically we’re all on the same page with this.  There’s a lot of overlap and it needs streamlining.”

Question: All of you are facing this January 2020 deadline.  Assume you get there.  What do things look like then?  What’s the urgent direction going forward from January?

Ms. Jackson said they have significant data gaps and uncertainty that have to be filled in so the monitoring and the collection of data and the analysis of data will be one of the first things that they’ll be looking at moving forward.  They are also going to have to begin looking at interbasin coordination as well.

One of the things that concerns me moving forward is that projects are not truly funded by my agency,” she said.  “The projects in the plan are private projects, so it’s going to be very important to make sure the projects are completed.   In the first five year checkup, we need to know that we have done what we said we’re going to do in our plan, so that’s going to be very important.”

Ms. Jackson said they also need to look at enforcement.  “I don’t know that anybody’s really talking about that, but there’s going to come a time where in our area, particularly, there would be some sort of enforcement of the plan because it’s going to be a heavy lift to get us to where we have to be for compliance.”

Question: What question did I not ask you that I should have asked you that would inform people out here? or an alternative, what question didn’t I ask one of the other panelists that you want to ask them?

One of our current issues is how to allocate for water under the ground,” said Ms. Jackson.  “Are we going to follow more of an adjudicated route that looks at the law and do it coarsely to how that has been done in the past, or are we able to a per acre allocation of what we think is the groundwater that can be sustainably used?  This was brought to our management group recently, questioning how we came to allocations and I think that is something that we’re going to have to probably address and readdress as we move forward.  How is this allocation process going to work? … I have a fourth-generation grower that has a well and has developed his land around that, so I’m not sure we’re there yet.  We still have some work to do.”

PAJARO VALLEY WATER MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Brian Lockwood, General Manager of the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency

Brian Lockwood is General Manager of the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, located on the north side of Monterey Bay extending inland between Santa Cruz and Moss Landing.  They are a state special district covering about 75,000 acres that was formed in 1984 to achieve sustainable groundwater resources.  The district is located within the boundaries of three counties: San Benito, Santa Cruz, and Monterey.  They have one municipality which is the City of Watsonville.  The groundwater basin is considered critically overdrafted.

The agency engages in basin management planning, well metering, hydrologic modeling, developing supplemental water, and conservation activities.

The agency has a seven member board of directors and per their enabling legislation, three of those directors are appointed who have to have the majority of their income coming from agricultural sector because part of the reason the agency was formed was to keep agriculture viable in the Pajaro Valley.  The other four directors are all elected.

The agency was formed 30 years before the governor signed SGMA into law.  Since inception, they have developed basin management plans to achieve sustainable resources locally in the valley, the most recent plan adopted in the spring of 2014, about 6 months before SGMA became law.  The agency was named in the legislation as the sole groundwater management agency for the Pajaro Valley Basin.  They submitted their existing materials as an alternative to a Groundwater Sustainability Plan on December 31, 2016.  DWR is expected to release the results of their analysis of the alternatives soon.

The Pajaro Valley has 28,000 acres of irrigated high value fruit and vegetable crops worth almost $1 million in revenue.  They are entirely reliant on local water resources, with 96% of water use from groundwater; recycled water is 3% of water use and then there are two small surface water projects.

There are about 2000 wells in the valley.  Water is withdrawn from a stratified aquifer system that is documented in a hydrologic report developed with the USGS.

There are meters on all the wells in the Valley that pump more than 5 acre-feet per year, so they have a clear understanding of the water budget.  The graph shows the fluctuation in water use; the dark blue bars show agricultural water use, the light blue is household water use, and the purple is recycled water.  The green lines at the top pushing down represent precipitation; the average is about 22” of rainfall per year.

Mr. Lockwood then presented some groundwater contour maps, starting with the fall of 2015, which is important because SGMA references conditions in that year, noting that anything in red is groundwater surface elevations that are at or below sea level.

Coming out of the drought in 2015, being 100% reliant on groundwater, the basin was suffering. But by the spring of 2018, the basin was mostly recovered.

Our basin, like all others in the state, fluctuates from high to low, so if we look at the fall of 2018, after all the extractions, we do have groundwater surface elevations below sea level,” Mr. Lockwood said.  “We are concerned about sea level intrusion, groundwater quality degradation as a result of seawater intrusion, and storage depletion.”

Our modeling has told us that an effective way to stop sea level intrusion and better protect the inland water resources is to build up a hydrostatic barrier close to the coast, so that’s where our projects have been focusing the delivering of all these supplemental water supplies,” he said.

Question: What are the primary interest groups in your GSA and governance concerns?  Do you see any needed changes in governance that might help you going forward?

Agriculture plays a large role in the Pajaro Valley; they are also the largest water users so both the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau and the Monterey County Farm Bureau are important stakeholders.  There is the municipality of Watsonville.  There are also several other water purveyors, including the Aromas Water District and the Sunny Mesa Water District, as well as Cal Water.

We work closely with the other water providers of potable water,” said Mr. Lockwood.  “My agency does not deliver any drinking water supplies.”

Environmental interests have been at the table for many years.  Prior to developing the 2012 basin management plan, they formed a 21-member stakeholder committee that included not only environmental interests within the valley, but also representatives from neighboring water districts just outside of their valley.  They are adjacent to Central Water District and Soquel Creek Water District and they have long shared data and had regular communication.

Just because there’s a line there, doesn’t mean we don’t ever share a resource and we communicate effectively that way,” said Mr. Lockwood.  “We’ve also been communicating with the newly formed Salinas Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency and their predecessor groups and the Water Resources Agency.”

Mr. Lockwood noted that there are a lot of Native American cultural sites so involving the Native American organizations has been very important.  While in general, they haven’t participated in the planning processes much, they are very engaged in the construction of water supply facilities.

Question:  Where are you at with your GSP development process?  You’ve have a January 2020 deadline, so what is the most significant hurdle on the critical path to GSP completion that keeps you up at night?

The subbasin has submitted an alternative to a GSP, so Mr. Lockwood said what keeps him up at night is wondering what DWR’s decision on their alternatives will be.  In the meantime, they are pushing forward with implementation of the proposed projects and programs in our plans.

One of their largest programs is the voluntary conservation program.  “The target there is to achieve about 40% of our overall goal,” he said.  “It was very important to the farm bureau that conservation was voluntary, otherwise we’d be looking at things like pumping restrictions which nobody wanted to move towards.  So what worries me is that success of the voluntary conservation program, and if we’re going to be able to achieve those goals.  If we don’t achieve the goals through the conservation programs, we do have additional supply side programs that we could construct, new water supply facilities, but then that ties back to the costs.”

Mr. Lockwood agreed that you can balance your budget but still be seeing negative impacts, so that is concern as well.  “We have a delivered water service area that is working reasonably well to stop seawater intrusion and have water levels come up, but it doesn’t extend along the entire area of our coast land, so we’re working to extend the reach of that project, but we’re supply limited,” he said.  “At the same time as we’re working on these demand management programs, like multi-year conservation programs for the agricultural community and we’re also working to develop additional water supplies.  It’s all costly, and our valley is a disadvantaged community, so what’s the most economical way to fund these water supply facilities.”

Moderator John Woodling asked about the submitted alternative and the January 2020 deadline.  If in fact, someday, you’re told your alternative isn’t satisfactory, what’s your path to compliance if that should happen?

I think our path to compliance is pushing that deadline to 2022,” Mr. Lockwood said, with chuckles from the room.  “I’m only half joking.  One of the most important parts of SGMA was stakeholder participation, and if DWR were to tell us today or even a couple of months ago that our alternative didn’t meet the criteria, we’re already too short to have the whole stakeholder process, but yet at the same time, it makes no sense to spend additional resources to go back and try to reinvent what we’ve already done.  Our board has been very proactive in taking the approach of working to implement the projects and programs that our stakeholders spent two years considering.  We’ve spent a half a million dollars developing and modeling and developing and EIR for, so let’s build these water supply projects so regardless of what the answer as we know we’re going to need these facilities in the future.”

Question: Out of the six undesirable results, what is your biggest concern?  And what about the disconnect from those who might be impacted?  For example, in the case of subsidence, those that have surface facilities may not be the same people as those affected by the water use.  How do you manage that?

Mr. Lockwood noted that three of them come together:  “Without groundwater storage depletion that’s been caused from long-term overdraft, we wouldn’t have seawater intrusion, and that wouldn’t be a major source of water quality degradation,” he said.  “Those three are very closely tied together.  We also have groundwater quality degradation from the agricultural industry in the valley, and nitrate contamination into some of the water supply.  It’s the combination of those three things that we’re working to combat.”

He said they are using their recycled water facilities to provide a supplemental supply to keep with their mission of keeping agriculture viable, but they are also reducing groundwater extractions.  “To the extent of the coast where there is some seawater that’s underlying those ranches, we do have an alternative water supply that those growers can use, so the fact that seawater is there is not entirely detrimental to the agricultural industry,” he said.  “What would be detrimental is if the seawater were to continue intruding inland, so what we really need to do is stop where it is, and continue developing these additional water supplies to offset extractions.”

Question: With respect to water quality, unlike the other undesirable results that have been largely unregulated, groundwater quality and surface water quality has a robust program of regulatory structure around it.  So for your GSA and your GSP, how are you handling the issue of water quality concerns?  What do you see as the GSA’s role in potentially affecting better outcomes for water quality?

The solution to pollution is dilution,” said Mr. Lockwood.  “So along that same line, if we can stop groundwater storage depletion and we can get more water to recharge into the basin, then we can provide that dilution.  One of the new ways that we’ve been thinking about this that’s outside of our basin management plan or our groundwater sustainability plan alternative is through this program called recharge net metering which is a plan our board approved a few years ago.  We’ve been working with the University of California, Andy Fisher is a professor of geology, a local RCD, and local landowners in our agency and the idea there is that we can pay local ranch owners who have land overlying the recharge zones of our valley to build their own recharge basins.  We can work with them to get permits and water rights and we can track the quality of the water that’s infiltrating into the ground and then we can pay them a rebate essentially for how much water they recharge.  The goal for each of these projects is to recharge about 100 acre-feet or more and if you were to recharge 100 acre-feet, then you would get a rebate check from the agency of about $12,000 each year.

Mr. Lockwood said climate change is a real threat as well.  “We’ve done 100-year climate change analysis with the USGS and as rainstorms become more intense, we want to be able to capture as much of that natural runoff as we can and get it into the ground,” he said.  “In terms of determining where the most significant hot spots are for things such as nitrate groundwater contamination, that was really the result of developing a salt and nutrient management plan, which was submitted as part of our alternative that identified groundwater quality with respect to nitrate, chloride, and TDS.”

Question: How are you financing your GSAs and the development of your GSP?  How do you see that changing moving forward, after the GSP is developed?

Mr. Lockwood said when they first were formed in 1984, their initial revenue stream came from a management fee on the tax rolls at $18 or so per parcel.  After meters were put on all the wells, they began charging based on extractions.  They have gone through several rounds of Prop 218 over the years.

Their rates are based on both delivered water and groundwater augmentation charges which is the fee on extraction; the rate varies depending on if the pumper is inside or outside the delivered water service zone.  Additionally, they’ve relied heavily on grant funding, bringing in about $55 million in state and federal grants in the last 30 years which have been used for projects such as construction of the recycled water facility and installation of 20 miles of pipeline.

Question: There have been a lot of planning efforts going on over the last few years: Integrated Regional Water Management Programs, urban water management planning, ag water management planning, etc.  How are you using those other planning processes that went before as a foundation and get benefit from that while now carrying out a regulatory program?

Mr. Lockwood said that the IRWM has been really important to them as it has connected them with their neighbors as well as brought in funding to conduct important studies.  “It has through the years helped to increase the ease of communication between our various districts because we all work together on these projects to develop the master plan and then we get together as a regional water management group to evaluate the proposals that are submitted,” he said.  “There are the tangibles or the money coming in, and the intangibles which I’d call increased comradery with neighboring water districts.”

Question: All of you are facing this January 2020 deadline.  Assume you get there.  What do things look like then?  What’s the urgent direction going forward from January?

Mr. Lockwood noted that since they have submitted an alternative and are waiting for the outcome of that, they aren’t really focused on the January 2020 deadline.  They have published a draft EIR for the largest proposed water supply project; the comment period ends June 5, and if the board of directors votes to move forward, they will need to work on securing funding for that project.

They did apply for and were conditionally awarded a $1.5 million planning grant a few years ago, and as part of that grant, so they have proposed to drill some new monitoring wells.  “We know that additional monitoring locations are really necessary,” he said.  “Our staff monitors about 150 or so wells in the valley, but one interesting little bit of information is most of them are privately owned production wells; we don’t share the data with those wells, and if we do share the data, we’ll likely lose the ability to continue monitoring.  So developing additional monitoring wells, perhaps in combination with some other stakeholder groups to develop new monitoring wells to monitor things like seawater intrusion or groundwater quality degradation and so forth.”

Question: What question did I not ask you that I should have asked you that would inform people out here? or an alternative, what question didn’t I ask one of the other panelists that you want to ask them?

Where is the funding going to come from to meet the costs of the implementation,” said Mr. Lockwood.  “For the water supply facilities that we’re looking towards, it could increase the augmentation charge so high maybe we’re going to self-ratify our problem because people aren’t going to be able to afford to grow crops there anymore which is we’ve been working all this time to preserve agriculture as one of our primary drivers.  If we can’t find grant revenue to keep the costs down for the local community, then all of this work is going to drive out the agricultural economy.”

SAN LUIS-DELTA MENDOTA AUTHORITY: Andrew Garcia, Senior civil engineer

The San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority is not actually a Groundwater Sustainability Agency, but Senior Civil Engineer Andrew Garcia is helping to coordinate the efforts of 23 GSAs within the Delta Mendota subbasin; those 23 GSAs are developing six different groundwater sustainability plans.  They also have nine adjacent subbasins.

The chart shows the ‘family tree’; the different colors are the six different Groundwater Sustainability Plan groups: the Central Delta Mendota Region group, the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractor group, Grasslands GSP group, Farmers Water District Group, Fresno County Group, and Aliso Water District Group.  Underneath that are 23 of the individual GSAs and below that are the 36 different parties who signed the coordination agreement to meet monthly and work through the development to ensure consistent data, methodologies, and the like.  The small figures show how the governance of the coordination committee is formed by the various GSP groups.

There are individual GSAs and multiple entities that have come together as a single GSA; there are water districts, counties, cities, disadvantaged communities and severely disadvantaged communities.  “Any decision or approval that’s made from budgets to portions of the plans that are being developed, those are all being approved individually and so the timing of everything is really, really cumbersome because every member has to go back to their respective board before they can come and make a vote at a coordination committee level,” he said.  “It makes the coordination extremely difficult to make sure everyone had the detail information they need while we’re still trying to meet this January 31, 2020 deadline.”

The Delta Mendota subbasin extends from south of the city of Tracy to the city of Mendota which is ease of the Coast Ranges and on the west side of the San Joaquin River.  There is a large-scale regional issue of subsidence.

In the valley, there are different types of models that folks are using,” said Mr. Garcia. “Some folks are critically overdrafted and some aren’t, so when we start talking about regional coordination or interbasin coordination, it’s a challenge to talk apples to apples when folks either aren’t going to be on the same timeline as we are or using a different tool to produce some of the results.”

The map shows how the six GSP groups are laid out on the landscape.  The San Luis-Delta Mendota Authority’s role is assist in the actual implementation of the coordination agreement.

Everything that we’ve agreed to in the coordination agreement, such as what we’re actually doing as a group to help facilitate those meetings and those discussions,” said Mr. Garcia.  “We also have various subcommittees so we have a technical working group and a public communications working group for public outreach efforts and we meet monthly with those folks as well.”

The regulations require that if there are multiple GSPs, there must be a subbasin-wide monitoring network and protocols for the monitoring system, so they are working on that as well as developing and maintaining a basin-wide data management system.  They are also working on developing data and tools to develop the GSPs; the Central Valley hydrologic model C2VSim gives high-level results, so with this many GSPs in very small districts, they need more detail, so they are developing more of a spreadsheet type analytical process for developing some of the water budgets and other things, Mr. Garcia said.

They are also working on coordinating the development of annual reports.  The plan will be submitted January of 2020 and the first annual report will be due three months later, so they are working on what does that report look like, who is responsible to do what, and what data are they going to collect and how are they going to roll that all up into a report.

Mr. Garcia then gave some key things that he has learned along the way:

  • These initial plans are going to have high levels of uncertainty: “Everybody needs to be aware and comfortable with that level of uncertainty and allow for a good five year update and collect the data to make these much more certain in the future,” he said.
  • Develop management tools to improve the information: “We’ll improve on these models that exist to make them more refined,” he said.  “We need to collect data; unfortunately, we don’t have metered wells and the number of wells and construction information so we’ll have to go through a large robust effort of getting better data for these plans.”
  • Sustainability doesn’t need to be met in the first plan: “We have until 2040, and we always keep that in the back of our minds.”
  • Utilize existing relationships:Work together, set some differences aside and really try and collaborate and realize that we’re all in this together, we’re all one subbasin,” he said.
  • Find partnerships and share resources: “It can be universities, and NGOs and the Department, the state, the federal government,” he said.

Question: What are the primary interest groups in your GSA and governance concerns?  Do you see any needed changes in governance that might help you going forward?  Does that family tree remain the structure over the long term?

Mr. Andrew said it was a Herculean effort just to get it organized that way.  They began talks in 2015-2016, and they’ve only been doing technical GSP development for about a year.  “The rest of that time was spent on organizing ourselves and getting everything formed, so I really do hope that the governance doesn’t change at least for the time being,” he said.

Question:  Where are you at with your GSP development process?  You’ve have a January 2020 deadline, so what is the most significant hurdle on the critical path to GSP completion that keeps you up at night?

Mr. Garcia said they have the majority of the work done and they are beginning the actual writing of the plans, so they will most likely be getting the plan submitted on time, which is ‘fantastic’.

What keeps him up at night is keeping the costs down to the users, the member agencies, and the individual landowners.  “There’s just a whole world of regulatory compliance programs that just compound on one another, and so try and keep this as efficient as possible and to keep the costs down and actually do what these GSPs are intended to do, and stop things like subsidence which is a huge issue in the Delta Mendota subbasin, that’s what keeps me up at night.”

Question: Out of the six undesirable results, what is your biggest concern?  And what about the disconnect from those who might be impacted?  For example, in the case of subsidence, those that have surface facilities may not be the same people as those affected by the water use.  How do you manage that?

Mr. Garcia said for the Delta Mendota subbasin, it’s subsidence.  “The Water Authority operates and maintains the Delta Mendota Canal, so it’s the same issue: subsidence, loss of capacity, and a future inability for deliveries.  It’s working together because a majority of the folks are concerned with subsidence.  There’s a few who don’t rely on the DMC, but I think dealing with that overdraft and its effects and subsidence, and the ramifications of that and the costs, that’s our biggest focus.”

Question: With respect to water quality, unlike the other undesirable results that have been largely unregulated, groundwater quality and surface water quality has a robust program of regulatory structure around it.  So for your GSA and your GSP, how are you handling the issue of water quality concerns?  What do you see as the GSA’s role in potentially affecting better outcomes for water quality?

Mr. Garcia noted that SGMA isn’t intended to be a remediation program; there are a number of other programs that are already active in regulating groundwater quality, such as CV-SALTS, Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, and other programs that are already tracking water quality issues.  “The GSPs that are being developed will obviously meet the regulations by summarizing that data and monitoring that data to make sure that the groundwater management activities aren’t making things worse as the regulations require.  In the Delta-Mendota subbasin, we’re leaning on those existing different compliance programs that already in place to take care of the water quality concerns.”

Question: How are you financing your GSAs and the development of your GSP?  How do you see that changing moving forward, after the GSP is developed?

For the 23 GSAs in the Delta Mendota subbasin, there is the whole spectrum, from Prop 218 processes to those who are waiting until the plan is submitted; other folks are going to continue with the fee structures that they have.  “It’s more of a wait and see until we know this plan is done and can put down on paper how much do we actually think this is going to cost and then those processes will move forward.”

Question: There have been a lot of planning efforts going on over the last few years: Integrated Regional Water Management Programs, urban water management planning, ag water management planning, etc.  How are you using those other planning processes that went before as a foundation and get benefit from that while now carrying out a regulatory program?

Besides being the SGMA program manager for the Authority, Mr. Garcia is the program manager for IRWM groups, so he said he definitely takes advantage of that and understanding the projects that involved there.  “The Authority is going to take a holistic approach, looking at all these different regulatory compliance programs and then also look outside of our member agencies for urban water management plans and stormwater management plans and things like that,” he said.  “For SGMA, if we’re already collecting water quality data and we’re already doing these things, then we should just be borrowing that data and not paying for things twice.  So my job going forward will be identifying those efficiencies and working with other people that might be doing the same thing to make sure I’m not missing anything to take full advantage of those programs and leverage IRWM money for projects that are going to offset project costs for our GSP.

Mr. Garcia noted that they have also discussed was putting the onus back on the state and pointing out all these different programs that are out there that aren’t holistically being managed the way we are trying to do so.  “We should ask them to do the same, because they are asking a lot and we should make them work together as well,” he said.

Question: All of you are facing this January 2020 deadline.  Assume you get there.  What do things look like then?  What’s the urgent direction going forward from January?

We’re going to be trying to fill the data gaps for these first five years,” Mr. Garcia said.  “We have a lot of results that we did the best we could with the data and the tools that we had, but to actually go out and feel reasonably confident that you could enforce something based on these results – nobody has that level of confidence.  We really need to spend these first few years ramping up our data collection efforts, installing the monitoring wells, improving our tools, our surface-groundwater model and putting new monitoring wells in to start understanding interconnected surface waters and ecosystems.  We’ll also need to be developing policies and directives of how six GSPs are coordinated and what we’re responsible to share and how we’re going to hold one another accountable, and how we’re going to work together while these are being implemented and when certain scenarios do pop up inevitably, how do those get handled.”

Question: What question did I not ask you that I should have asked you that would inform people out here? or an alternative, what question didn’t I ask one of the other panelists that you want to ask them?

How much does everybody anticipate this is going to cost to implement,” said Mr. Garcia.  “I’ve been doing the best I can to try and start to estimate that, and I’m doing the best I can.  Getting a grip on what everybody else is going to take and what do the resources look like.  Do we have the talent and the workforce to number one, review the plans, and number two, develop the plans?  There are only so many consultants and engineering firms out there to do all this work and they are spread just as thin as all the folks working for the districts and the agencies so what does the staffing look like for implementation of this and what is the cost going to look like.”

ROSEDALE-RIO BRAVO WATER STORAGE DISTRICT (Kern County): Eric Averett, General Manager

Eric Averett is General Manager of the Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District, one of the agencies developing a GSP in the Kern subbasin, a critically-overdrafted subbasin at the south end of the San Joaquin Valley.  The Kern subbasin is the largest in the state, and the complexity scales with the size of the basin, he said.

There are a number of GSAs in the basin.  Many of the agencies in the basin have coordinated under the umbrella organization of the Kern Groundwater Authority; these agencies didn’t file as a GSA with the state, electing instead to coordinate that responsibility under the Kern Groundwater Authority with the hope and expectation was that they would achieve an economy of scale and overcome some of the coordination challenges that plague many basins.  There are other GSAs in the basin that have elected to do their own GSPs.

The slide shows the organizational structure within the basin.  There are three GSAs who are preparing their own GSPs.  The Kern River GSA has three participants who represent predominantly the urbanized areas within the basin, and they are preparing their own GSP.  Then there are seventeen agencies coordinated under the Kern Groundwater Authority; each of them are preparing their own GSP, but they are calling it a chapter.    The chapters will then be consolidated into one master GSP to be submitted to the state.

Mr. Averett said that they’ve been fortunate in that they’ve been coordinating for a number of years. There was a loose group called the Kern Groundwater Committee that existed prior to the passage of SGMA which ultimately became the Kern Groundwater Authority.

All of these organizations have been meeting for at least the year monthly and we’ve been meeting almost weekly for the last six months, tackling some of the challenging issues of coordinating GSPs in a basin that is very large and very complex with lots of different players,” he said.

Question:  Where are you at with your GSP development process?  You’ve have a January 2020 deadline, so what is the most significant hurdle on the critical path to GSP completion that keeps you up at night?

Mr. Averett said it’s what he characterizes as the temporal and spatial disconnect between the reaction in the aquifer and how it will be reported to DWR for sustainability.  “For example, if I recharge any particular area, the benefits of that recharge tend to migrate,” he said.  ‘”In an overdrafted basin, you may be in an area or a region that from a water budget standpoint, it is in surplus, but yet you may be suffering chronic lowering of water levels as a result of just the dynamics within the basin.  How do we explain or describe the DWR those dynamics in a way indicates we’re sustainable when the metrics they are asking us to report on would indicate otherwise?  That’s one of the challenges in our basin. … How do you describe in a groundwater sustainability plan, when you write everything looks really good from a water budget standpoint but yet all of the metrics that I’m reporting to DWR would indicate otherwise?

That’s a really good response and a reminder that the law says undesirable results occurring throughout the basin, so I think you’re getting to what does ‘throughout the basin’ mean,” added moderator John Woodling.

Question: Out of the six undesirable results, what is your biggest concern?  And what about the disconnect from those who might be impacted?  For example, in the case of subsidence, those that have surface facilities may not be the same people as those affected by the water use.  How do you manage that?

Mr. Averett noted that in Kern County, it’s the challenges that accompany chronic lowering of groundwater levels, such as water quality, and other issues.  “We have a very significant economy dependent on groundwater at this point, and trying to wean them off of that or develop additional water supplies is going to be a challenge, so if I had to pick one, it’d be the lowering groundwater levels.”

Question: With respect to water quality, unlike the other undesirable results that have been largely unregulated, groundwater quality and surface water quality has a robust program of regulatory structure around it.  So for your GSA and your GSP, how are you handling the issue of water quality concerns?  What do you see as the GSA’s role in potentially affecting better outcomes for water quality?

Moderator John Woodling notes that the other panelists have said that by managing water quantity, they can address water quality.  Do you concur?

Mr. Averett agrees.  “The only thing I would add is that certainly water quality informs the establishment of minimum thresholds and measurable objectives.  I think that was where we keyed in, being aware, in our area, it’s predominantly arsenic.  Evaluating at what level or what threshold arsenic issues became apparent and setting measurable objectives and minimum thresholds above that to be protective of water quality.  I would agree with everything that’s been said, but certainly from our standpoint, it was a part of the process of setting those thresholds.”

Question: How are you financing your GSAs and the development of your GSP?  How do you see that changing moving forward, after the GSP is developed?

Mr. Averett said they did a Prop 218 election for GSP development as well as other reasons and they were fortunate to be successful.  “Our costs for development of the GSP have been relatively low so they are just being spread across the district’s constituencies,” he said.  “We anticipate and hope that ongoing monitoring costs will not be significant, and we’re in the unique situation where we don’t have the need to develop a lot of supply augmentation.  We have projects we’ve been working on for the last ten+ years that we believe once fully implemented, will make us sustainable.   I wish I had more to offer, but we’re in a unique situation compared to others.  The fee structure is in place.  We don’t anticipate or project significant increases.”

Question: There have been a lot of planning efforts going on over the last few years: Integrated Regional Water Management Programs, urban water management planning, ag water management planning, etc.  How are you using those other planning processes that went before as a foundation and get benefit from that while now carrying out a regulatory program?

Mr. Averett said there is certainly value in looking at the other regulatory programs and they’ve incorporated them by reference in their GSPs to the extent practical.  “I also want to express some frustration over the duplicativeness of some of the regulatory programs,” he said.  “There’s an effort that is just getting started to see if we can consolidate some of those programs, so to the extent you are monitoring water levels in different wells for seven different programs and submitted them at seven different times, it just seems that collectively, we should be able to look across the horizon and petition the state to be more efficient in the regulatory programs. … SGMA may represent an opportunity to do that.  We’re going to have annual reporting requirements and theoretically CASGEM and AB 3030 and SB 1938 … they should all go in and get that dataset instead of requiring a separate report and a separate analysis and a separate schedule.”

Question: All of you are facing this January 2020 deadline.  Assume you get there.  What do things look like then?  What’s the urgent direction going forward from January?

The reality of trying to get such a large effort coordinated across basins with many stakeholders meant that there are some fundamental technical and policy issues that all of us have had to put on the shelf while we meet the deadline with the best available information,” Mr. Averett said.  “I think we all recognize there will be a circling back to readdress those because its collectively been understood within these basins that this is what ultimately is going to be out there long-term.”

He also described what he called the ‘sleeping dragon’:  “Many of us have had very active outreach programs, we host a meeting in a conference hall like this and three people show up.  You get very nervous because you know when the plan comes out, the hall will be full of angry people.  Implementation is going to take a lot more effort than actual plan development, because people will then come in and say, I wasn’t aware of this, I didn’t know about this, I disagree with this, and this is where the defense, the good data and the rationale needs to be in place to explain the how, what, when, where, and why.”

Question: What question did I not ask you that I should have asked you that would inform people out here? or as an alternative, what question didn’t I ask one of the other panelists that you want to ask them?

The question that you should have asked me is what the heck’s going on with the County of Kern?,” said Mr. Averett.  “Many of you may be aware that the County of Kern which is the backstop to the white area in the last minute withdrew and has caused those of us that remain in the basin to really scramble to develop a process by which we can provide coverage and avoid state intervention which in my opinion is the seventh undesirable result.  We’ve come up with some creative ideas; it’s ongoing, but you have to realize that in the Kern area, the undistricted area is close to 500,000 acres.  Fortunately, only about 40,000-50,000 acres of that has been developed irrigated agriculture, the vast majority of it is grazing, but still, DWR will not accept a plan until all plans are submitted so who is going to cover this in the absence of the county’s jurisdictional authority.  We’ve really been scrambling with how do we fill that backstop with County withdrawal.  It’s a significant hurdle.”

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