A lush agricultural scene in San Luis Obispo County in Central California. The counties annual crop report for 2013 set a record level for agricultural commodities valued over $960 million, a 11 percent increase over 2012. Increases were in the animal, fruit, nut and vegetable categories, reported by the County of San Luis Obispo Department of Agriculture. Photo taken February 1, 2013. John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources

GSA SUMMIT: SGMA and Land Use Issues

A lush agricultural scene in San Luis Obispo County in Central California.
John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
Panel discusses land use issues, including well permitting, land fallowing, general plans and SGMA, and more …

Groundwater is intimately connected with the landscape and land use that it underlies.  How land is developed above can change both water demand and how much water can be recharged, and inappropriate land use and poor land management can cause chronic groundwater quality problems.

At the Second Annual Groundwater Sustainability Agency Summit, hosted by the Groundwater Resources Association in June of 2019, a panel shared their perspectives and experiences with the interplay of land use planning and Groundwater Sustainability Plan development.

Seated on the panel:

The panel was moderated by Marcus Trotta with Sonoma Water.

Land use planning and well permitting go hand in hand and really drive the water use in all of our basins and the decisions related to that,” began Marcus Trotta.  “Like many aspects of SGMA, there’s general guidance provided in SGMA in the GSP regulations, mostly related to notification and consideration, consultation requirements, and it’s really up to the local GSAs to figure out what exactly that looks like and how they are going to be addressing those requirements in their GSPs and during the implementation phase.”

We’re fortunate to have a panel of four experts and practitioners throughout the state to share their perspectives and information on their experiences in things like well permitting, how that relates to GSP development, metering considerations, general plan and other types of planning documents and how those get integrated with their GSPs, managing stakeholder expectations and perspectives, and then some unique issues that have come up in some of these basins, like exempt lands that are in their basins.”

Each panelist began with a short presentation on the region and their GSA.

LISA HUNTER, Water Resource Coordinator for Glenn County Department of Agriculture

Lisa Hunter is responsible for SGMA planning and implementation in three high and medium priority basins in Glenn County.

Glenn County is in the Sacramento Valley between Sacramento and Redding.  They have three basins that are partially within the County; this requires a lot of coordination with other entities because there isn’t a single subbasin that is entirely within the County.

Glenn County is mostly agriculture and rural residential; population is about 28,000 people and two incorporated cities.  Their primary groundwater issues are some declining groundwater levels in limited areas and some small amounts of land subsidence.  Their GSPs are not due until 2022, so they haven’t been working much on projects or actions yet.

Coordinating across jurisdictions and planning documents has been challenging.  “We all know how many different planning documents there are, and how to collect them, talk to the right people, incorporate them into your GSPs, or suggest changes to the current documents when they go through their next round of updates,” Ms. Hunter said.

Maintaining a healthy economy and new development are also concerns.  “Through the GSP planning process, we’re going to be able to point out where those land use decisions make sense and where they don’t, and how to coordinate those efforts, but we still need the healthy economy so how do you balance those sometimes competing items can be challenging.”

Surface water is a significant component of the overall water supplies, and it’s directly connected to groundwater use, because if, for whatever reason, surface water supplies are not available, folks will turn to groundwater to irrigate their crops.

They are also finding data sharing and data management to be challenging; there’s a lot of data out there, and there are questions and details to be worked out regarding who will house the data, who will maintain it, how it will be updated, and how everyone will access and use the same information.

In Glenn County, land use is about 65% agriculture, 22% is native which is mainly rangeland in the foothill areas but not under irrigation; 8% is developed; 3% managed wetlands; and 2% water surface area.  Ms. Hunter noted that these figures are for the land within the basin, not the land outside of the basin.  Water supplies are about 30% groundwater and 70% surface water.

The Corning subbasin is about 50% agriculture and 8% developed.  Groundwater comprises about 61% of their water supplies.  The Colusa subbasin is the largest area in the County, covering most of the valley floor.  The basin is 65% in agriculture; 25% of that is irrigated with groundwater, 75% surface water, so maintaining surface water rights is important to this basin.

The Butte subbasin is 74% in agriculture, irrigated with 43% is groundwater and 57% with surface water.

TONY MORGAN, hydrogeologist with Daniel B. Stephens and Associates

Tony Morgan is a hydrogeologist and the former Deputy General Manager for the United Conservation District down in Ventura County.  He is currently project manager for developing three GSPs; two of those are in Ventura County and one is in the Owens Valley.

The Owens Valley spans parts of Inyo and Mono counties.  The Owens Valley Groundwater Authority is the GSA.  The land use is mostly open space, rangeland, low density urban development, and some agriculture.  The primary groundwater issue is the surface and groundwater interaction, and surface water depletion is a very big deal to the stakeholders in the basin as well as the county regulatory agencies.  The basin was reclassified from high priority to low priority in the last reprioritization effort, so the GSA is now making a decision whether to move forward with the GSP process.

There are many private and non-metered wells and very little data available at all, so water consumptive use and general production of groundwater is a ‘little bit fuzzy’, Mr. Morgan said.  The region has a complex geology with multiple aquifers.

In the SGMA process, LADWP’s lands within the Owens Valley were deemed adjudicated for the purposes of SGMA and are therefore exempt.

So what the GSA there is doing is a GSP for the donut and not the hole of the donut, so the donut hole is LADWP’s land that runs up the middle of the valley, and then the GSP goes around it,” he said.  “The point is that it’s very complicated political situation and so that issue is pretty much front and center with lots of folks’ perspectives on what the GSP can do.”

Mr. Morgan presented a slide with a map, zooming in on the town of Bishop, noting there’s a variety of land uses, and that the land use mapping in this area is largely focused on vegetation types.

In the Fillmore and Piru area, there are two adjacent subbasins and one GSA that is administering the two subbasins.

That came about as the landowners got together and realized there’s a lot of common ground,” Mr. Morgan said.  “One landowner in one basin also owned property in the other basin, and a lot of tenant agricultural operators are working in both basins.  So the quest was to minimize the administrative process associated with operating a GSA, so they have a single GSA which oversees both of those basins.”

Land use in the subbasins is open space, a lot of agriculture, and low density urban. Surface water depletion and to a lesser extent the water quality that’s coming in from the upgradient basins are the primary issues of concern for the basins; they are too far inland for seawater intrusion to be a concern.

There are multiple aquifers that are now being characterized in more detail as the groundwater conceptual model is developed.  “There is a lot of public interest there amongst how the allocation system, should one be developed, would affect the agricultural operations there,” he said.  “They [agriculture] are by far the largest producers of groundwater in the area.”

He presented maps of the basins, noting that the Fillmore and Piru Basins are primarily agricultural, growing row crops, citrus, avocados, and nursery crops.

JULIANNE PHILLIPS, Water and Natural Resource Manager, Kings County

As the Water and Natural Resource Manager in Kings County, Julianne Phillips serves as the liaison between 5 GSAs within the Tulare Lake subbasin and the county, and is coordinating efforts between the county’s land use planning and groundwater sustainability plan development.

Kings County is bordered to the north by Fresno County, to the east by Tulare County, to the south by Kern County, and to the west by San Luis Obispo County.  Kings is mostly agriculture; out of over 800,000 acres, only 40,000 are considered urban or developed.  There are three cities: Corcoran, Hanford, and Lemoore, as well as the smaller communities of Home Garden, Armona, Stratford, and Kettleman City.

One of the challenges for water managers and local government are the overlapping jurisdictions, because political jurisdictions don’t necessarily follow the hydrogeologic boundaries, Ms. Phillips said.  Kings County overlies five subbasins, four of which are considered critically overdrafted high priority basins, so they are on an accelerated 2020 timeline to have their GSP developed.  Regional water supplies include surface water supplies from both the State Water Project and the Kings River in addition to groundwater.

The largest subbasin in Kings County is the Tulare Lake Basin, which has 5 GSAs that are working on one coordinated GSP.    Ms. Phillips said that the area is very data poor, so they pooled their resources together and developed their first groundwater model in 2018.

Land use challenges they are facing are addressing the undesirable results, which include subsidence and overdraft; it also involves addressing data gaps by establishing a monitoring network.  There are also projects and management actions which will likely include recharge, fallowing, and permanent retirement; those will be for the five GSAs within the Tulare Lake subbasin to determine how they want to implement those moving forward, she said.

As a County, each project and management action is going to have an impact on our local government,” Ms. Phillips said.  “When we talk about fallowing, permanent land retirement, we also talk about really hitting the county’s bottom line and our ability to provide services for communities and residents.”

Because of the data gaps and because projects and management actions have not yet been determined, they don’t know yet the specific numbers of how much land will have to be taken out of production and what the economic impact will be, she said.

SGMA statutorily requires land use and GSA coordination, but it’s still rather undefined, said Ms. Phillips.  There are direct interfaces where the county has been using their authority to make decisions that could impact groundwater; those direct interfaces are the well permits, building permits, and the general plan update.  Also, every 5 years, the GSP is going to be updated.

Those are direct points of coordination where we’re going to have to look at are these decisions that we’re making together getting us to a point of sustainability and also being beneficial towards the community,” she said.

Some of the neighboring counties GSAs are considering requiring their landowners to put meters on their wells, so Kings County is looking at a possible ordinance to require that for landowners moving forward.  They are also looking at bringing existing wells into the monitoring program.

Regarding well permits, they are considering a referral process that when folks come to the county for a well permit, they will have to be in communication with the GSA as a landowner, much like a will-serve letter for those getting a building permit.

We need to know that your GSA is aware of this so the GSAs can implement their own requirements,” she said.  “If the GSA is going to be requiring a meter and things like that, the landowner is going to have to be aware of that and we’re going to have to know that there’s been that communication.  So that’s something that we’re considering.”

Santa Cruz Mountains; photo by Charlie Day

SIERRA RYAN, Water Resources Planner, County of Santa Cruz

Sierra Ryan is working with the Santa Cruz Mid County Groundwater Agency, an overdrafted basin, and the Santa Margarita Groundwater Agency, a medium priority basin.  Each basin has one GSA developing a GSP for that basin.

The two basins are adjacent to each other.  The Santa Cruz basin is critically overdrafted and so is on the 2020 deadline for submitting a GSP.  For both the basins, the dominant land use types are urban, rural residential, and open space.  There is limited agriculture in each of the basins, mostly legacy apple orchards and vineyards that aren’t really being irrigated, she said.

In Mid County groundwater basin, the main concern is seawater intrusion; it is already a problem in the wells along the coast.  “We were fortunate enough to get to do the SkyTem [aerial survey process] a couple years ago, and we saw that even where we don’t have seawater onshore, we have it right offshore,” she said.  “That interface is really coming up against our monitoring wells and then our production wells which are not too far behind, so the devil is at the door and we are keeping an eye on it.”

Surface water depletion is a concern for both basins, as there are coho salmon, steelhead trout, and other endangered species that need to be protected.  “We have a very environmentally conscious community that really values those resources and the values the streams, the rivers, and the habitats that they protect, so that’s another priority for us to make sure that we’re maintaining that streamflow,” said Ms. Ryan.  “Even both basins have talked about trying to improve things beyond the requirements of SGMA.”

Right now, they are not discussing any restrictions on pumping in either of the basins.  In the Mid-County, conservation over the past decades has been extremely effective in reversing declining groundwater levels which have started rebounding without any supplemental projects.  “It doesn’t mean that we think we’re in the clear,” said Ms. Ryan.  “We understand with climate change we are facing potentially a great decrease in recharge moving forward, so it’s important to us that we still continue to consider doing more actions in the future.  Supplemental supplies will likely be both ASR and recycled water in the Mid County basin and Santa Margarita basin.  We haven’t gotten there yet, but there is a strong commitment to continue voluntary water conservation across the board.

There are thousands of properties that must be served by private wells because they are not served by a municipality but they are in a residential land use or agriculture in some cases, Ms. Ryan said.  They have permit records for some of them, but well permits weren’t really required until the 70s; development started in the 1920s, so there’s a data gap there.

The geology is quite complex with stacked aquifers and aquitards and it isn’t known exactly which layers all of the private wells are drilled into; it could be multiple layers.  That leads to a lot of questions, especially when it comes to the surface water interactions and groundwater dependent ecosystems because it isn’t known if the private pumpers are pumping from the upper layers that are supplying water to the creeks or from the lower aquifers that are more separated, she said.

There is extensive data; there’s been a lot of monitoring but still, it’s not enough.  “We haven’t been able to prove definitively surface water depletion based on groundwater extractions, so we’ve had to model that, and that’s added a layer of difficulty on top of everything because there’s uncertainty with that,” she said.

There is a robust and engaged community with a lot of concerns, and some with an anti-growth sentiment that were seeing this as a mechanism to stop growth.  “We’ve had to tell them that’s not what this is for, but there’s still a lot of concern about that,” Ms. Ryan noted.

Both these basins combined pump about 8,000 acre-feet per year; she acknowledged it’s not a lot comparatively, but it is nonetheless important to the people that live there.

In the Mid County Basin, rural residential and urban residential land use is about 53% of the land use in the basin; a great majority of the rest of the land use is open space and various easements.  The state park is shown in purple, and is about 36% of the basin.  Most of the residential is along the coast; they have an urban services boundary where they promoted growth in the urban areas and restricted it through land use zoning for many decades in the rural areas.

In Santa Margarita, it’s about 41% urban and rural residential, and about 44% open space.


Well permitting is one authority that SGMA does not grant to the GSAs; those authorities remain with the existing permitting agencies, which are the counties in most areas.  Well permitting is a crucial step and an outcome of land use planning decisions.  What type of coordination have the GSAs been engaged in with the existing permitting agencies, and are any potential changes being considered or have already occurred due to well permitting due to SGMA?

Tony Morgan (Owens Valley, Fillmore, Piru)

Mr. Morgan said that in his basins, the counties by and large have the ministerial responsibility for issuing well permits.  The plans aren’t due until 2022 for his basins so that dialog is just getting started.  “None of the GSAs are looking to assume that responsibility in any shape or form.  However, they do recognize that, for example, if they were to establish allocations within their basins, if an applicant then comes to the county for a new well permit, there has to be some sort of coordination with the GSA to say, okay that parcel of land has an allocation of X, and that becomes a condition upon the issuance of a permit.  That would work its way to the county for ministerial purposes, back to the GSA for final approval and review of those conditions.  If those GSAs look to establish any sort of specialized well construction requirements, such as the inclusion of a sounding tube or something like that that doesn’t fall within the county’s general well construction guidelines, then it’s up that GSA to send that back up the ladder to the county to say, these are the conditions on that well permit.”

Ventura County has a moratorium on new wells in unincorporated areas, which is largely Piru and Fillmore basins.  “The stipulation is that when you’re GSP is adopted by the GSA, then the well moratorium stops, and it’s looking like the county is pointing back at the GSA and saying, you’re the GSA, you’re responsible for deciding if the well permit is OK in your basin.”

Lisa Hunter (Glenn County)

Ms. Hunter said that the county is not looking to give well permitting authority over to the GSAs, so moving forward, it will likely be similar to what Mr. Morgan described on coordinating with the GSAs if requirements are being requested from the GSA’s perspective.

She noted that previously, Glenn County did have a well permit moratorium in the middle of the 2015-2016 drought; it did not stop well drilling, it just stopped the issuance of new permits, so it did allow for any of the existing permits to continue.  “There was such a backlog in the permits already that I don’t think it really slowed down the drilling but it did put it out there that the County had the authority to do that, and that was a big eye opener to a lot of folks to understand that that could happen again,” she said.

In January of 2017, Glenn County updated their permitting process, making a distinction that a 6” well used for domestic purposes or livestock would have fewer requirements than if it was being used for other purposes or it was a larger well.  They also started requiring e-logs for larger wells and added a metering requirement for wells 6” or larger.  “It doesn’t capture any of the current wells, but moving forward, there are the wells that we think we may want to collect data from at some point and now there’s a mechanism to be able to do that,” she said.

They did also add a paragraph before they sign for their well permit that talks a little bit about SGMA, that the well owner understands that SGMA is coming and that they are going to be required to coordinate with the county and the authorized GSA representatives to help comply with SGMA requirements and the implementation process, so hopefully new well owners have had an opportunity to understand that is coming and there may be more requirements placed on that well through that process.”

Julianne Phillips (Kings County)

About 6 months ago, one of the members of the advisory commission brought forward the idea of amending the well permitting ordinance to require meters to the Kings County Board of Supervisors.   “That person was a GSA manager,” Ms. Phillips said.  “It’s something they had been considering for a long time and something that our board was receptive to, but also concerned about how all of the other landowners in the GSA would respond to that.  So they thought if the County can require it, then it takes the burden off of us.  We can run with that, we can implement, we can be the reporting agency, and the County won’t have to be big brother, but we’re now going to have to talk to our neighbors and say, you need to put a meter on your well.”

The outcome of the discussion was that it’s a really good idea, but is it the right time while still in the phase of GSP development, before other GSAs that are going to be looking individually at what they are going to need from their landowners to manage their groundwater, so they are holding off on that for now.

One of our GSAs within the Tulare Lake Basin has decided that they are going to require wells on their landowners, so I’m thinking, if I’m a landowner in that GSA, I go to the County and get my well permit, there’s nothing in there that requires a meter, and then my GSA comes to me and say, oh by the way, you need to put a meter on your well, so it sort of seems like you’re getting a mixed message from both agencies,” she said.  “Wouldn’t it be great if there were some sort of coordination?  If we don’t decide to amend our well drilling ordinance to require meters, what I do see is a referral process, so that if you come to the county and you want to apply for a well permit, you’re going to have to go to your GSA and fill out a form that acknowledges you’re aware of the specific requirements of that specific GSA, and then we can issue a ministerial well drilling permit, so that they have all of the information from the get go before they have to pay the county for the permit and before they have to pay their well driller to put the well in.”

Sierra Ryan (Santa Cruz)

In Santa Cruz County, there is agriculture in the south county in the Pajaro Valley, and so the county has had a relationship for decades where when people come to the County for a well permit, they send it to Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency for a review.  “They require metering on those wells down there, so we have a bit of a template of how this could work where we have different extra layers of oversight for people in different geographic areas, and so we’ll probably have similar models for these other agencies,” she said.  “While we don’t have a lot of agriculture in either of them, we do still have other industrial and commercial water use.  We have a community college that is all on private wells, we have a number of irrigation, there’s a high school that’s all irrigated with private well, we have a couple of golf courses throughout the basins, and there is a small amount of agriculture, so we do have some uses, some non di minimus uses that we have been considering metering.

We’re not planning on doing any restrictions on pumping, and we already and have for a long time required people to fill out fairly extensive water conservation questionnaires when they are applying for new permits where they tell us how much water they are planning to use and all the different water conservation measures that they are planning to take.  I’m the person who reviews that.  I’d also be the person for the GSA who would review that so it makes coordination fairly simple.

Question: Glenn County, you had a moratorium on well permits for a period; was that related to SGMA or to drought or other issues, and then the second question is for all of the panelists, has there been concern with a run on well permits prior to the GSPs being adopted?  Have any of the land use agencies like counties or cities put restrictions on wells prior to the GSPs being adopted?

Lisa Hunter (Glenn County)

As far as the well permit moratorium, it was more related to drought and pre-SGMA activities,” Ms. Hunter said.  “What seemed to happen was the changes we were making in our groundwater management plan and our basin management process stalled when it got to the policy portion because people then said, why don’t we wait for SGMA, why don’t we wait for the plan, instead of doing it twice, let’s just do it once, so that’s where that landed.”

As far as a run on well permits, we did see that just prior to the well moratorium because it took a while to work its way through the Board of Supervisors so because it had to go through several meetings,” she said.  “There were several weeks of people knowing it was coming, so there were a lot of permits that were pulled just prior to putting that into place, but as far as GSP planning, I don’t see that being a big issue any more.”

Tony Morgan (Owens Valley, Fillmore, Piru)

With Ventura County and their moratorium on new wells in unincorporated areas, it was done at the beginning of the drought, and we were still seeing excessive groundwater extractions going on and they were concerned about groundwater elevations declining so they applied the moratorium,” said Mr. Morgan. “What SGMA did is it gave them an end point, to say when the GSA takes over and has their plan, then we can relieve ourselves of the moratorium.  That gave them an end point, rather than having to make that decision before then, have we recovered enough or not, knowing full well there’s another agency going to be taking over responsibilities in the not-to-distant future.  They did see a run on permits as it worked its way through the county board meetings and multiple readings of the policy and that kind of thing, so they did see some folks filing permits just in case they wanted to do something, they would have a permit in the hopper and grandfathered through the process.”

Julianne Phillips (Kings County)

We haven’t seen a run on permits because of SGMA, but we definitely did see a peak in permits at the height of the drought, so in 2014 and 2015, that’s when the well permit applications peaked at three times the average,” said Ms. Phillips. “Interestingly, what followed is in 2016 we saw a domestic well permits peak, probably because they needed to redrill and go a little bit deeper.  The County had a lot of concerns, but the problem was, when we’d been functioning in purely a ministerial capacity, if we were to go and start exerting discretionary authority over these permits, we’re going to have to find a way that’s defensible, and we’re going to have to have the best information if we’re really impacting somebody’s property right in that capacity, so we haven’t moved in that direction.”

With the implementation of SGMA, the best thing we’re going to get out of that if we see that there are undesirable effects in one area, and there’s clear information on that, then we can defensibly say, we will not issue that well permit in a discretionary capacity, but it’s hard when you haven’t been exerting that authority to all of a sudden find it.  As far as the authority over well permits moving forward, I think that if we can work with the GSAs in a coordinated capacity, we won’t have to get there.”

Sierra Ryan (Santa Cruz)

SGMA hasn’t created a run on well permits, but the drought really did,” Ms. Ryan said.  “We saw a big increase in new well applications, a lot of them for supplemental or replacement wells.  We didn’t see a lot of wells actually going dry but I think there was a lot of fear that they were going to so people were being proactive in drilling deeper wells and destroying their older, substandard wells that they had been using.  In terms of new well applications, really not, and I think a lot of that is due to the fact that most of the agriculture in the county is in the Pajaro Valley area and their compliance with SGMA is already underway.  They’ve been an agency managing water this way for a long time, so there isn’t really shift in their approach with the implementation of SGMA, and with the other two basins, there aren’t any land uses that would require new big wells.”

Question: What your thoughts are on all the legacy well data?  I think that’s one of the things that SGMA is driving us towards is putting all the data into an electronic format that we can actually use it.  But that’s not a short-term project.  We had about 1100 well logs we’ve digitized, and we’ve located around 500 of those and tied those to actual wells on the ground, and so it’s an ongoing process that will continue for years.

Lisa Hunter (Glenn County)

The Environmental Health department issues the well permits and takes care of all of that data; it’s all in paper files.  There are manila folders from one end of the office to the other, so it’s really difficult to find the information.

For the last maybe 8 or 9 years, the Water Resources portion of the county has been more interested in digitizing that information,” said Ms. Hunter.  “So several years ago, we developed a well map where we use the well permit information that we have and place a dot on the map where we think that well is.  We’ve been using the information DWR has been giving us on the non-confidential portions and filling in the gaps so being able to update where the screened intervals and that sort of information so it’s more useful to us.”

We have a long ways to go in completing that data, but we have wells drilled from 1970 to current.  Our environmental health office now, they fax us the information as soon as the permit is finalized so we can place the well on the map immediately after it’s been drilled, and increasing the information, so working backwards, it’s going to take a long time to gather that data.”

I know that there are some other agencies that are using OCR to try to manipulate the data and have less personal data entry,” she said.  “I don’t know how successful that has been for others, but I have my hesitations in doing that, so we have staff that is actually looking at the well permit and looking at the well maps.  Our Environmental Health office is now trying to take a GPS location when they go out in the field, so we’re hoping to incorporate that into a more dynamic process as our GSP planning moves forward.”

Tony Morgan (Owens Valley, Fillmore, Piru)

Ventura County maintains a well file that has information on the well completion report, the top and bottom perforations, total depth, and other factors, so there is at least a database to start when looking at information for wells.  However it doesn’t contain enough information to be helpful in developing a conceptual model, for instance, Mr. Morgan said.

At Inyo and Mono counties, virtually nothing is digital, so they are in the process of trying to decide what level of effort is appropriate to expend for the GSP development process.   “We have the actual well completion reports, but we also find reports, but we don’t find any permits, and we find permits, and we don’t find wells, so it’s possible somebody might change their mind and not drill it but the County has no system go back and correlate and call an applicant up 6 months later and say, you’re permits about to expire, are you going to drill a well or not?  They just don’t have the resources to do it, so we’re trying to make a decision on how much and how far to go into that and if we go to that effort, there’s a little bit of concern that if the counties still are undermanned to do that kind of work, who is going to upkeep that database as we go down the road.

Julianne Phillips (Kings County)

Ms. Phillips noted that about 15 years ago, the well drilling permits moved from the County Environmental Health office into their community development agency, who was very progressive and had them all digitized, so they have very useful information on all the wells that have been drilled in the past 15 years.

Unfortunately, all that gives us is depth, intervals, coordinates, and applicant information,” she said.  “One of the things that doesn’t tell us that’s most important is where that well is pulling the water from.  We have three aquifers and we also have what we call the clay plug that moves across the bottom part of the county, but it’s in different depths in different areas.  So you can look at a very deep well, but depending upon where it’s screened, it could be pulling from the semi-confined aquifer or the confined aquifer, and the impacts that you’re going to see on the water levels are going to differ depending on that.  That’s the really critical information that the GSAs are going to have to work with closely with the landowners to get, because the landowners are very wary of giving out well information.   The GSAs are really going to have to do a lot of outreach to work with those folks so that we get a better picture of how the water is moving because we have a model, but that model is only going to be as good as the information that we put into it.”

Sierra Ryan (Santa Cruz)

All of the well data is in an ESRI geodatabase, where they have been working to compile all the well locations and attach the well log so when you click on a well, you can pull up the actual well log.  For every well that’s been drilled since 2001, the information is in there are well organized.

They are working on the previous well applications and trying to load that in; they’ve also received some data from DWR that they’ve compiled as well, so it’s somewhat comprehensive but there is still a lot of missing information.  The quality of the data is not consistent; the actual location of the well is not always discernable, and sometimes is just a hand drawn map.  They are working on this and hoping to continue to improve the data over time.


Question: With those of you who represent larger agricultural regions, with the land that’s anticipated to be coming out of production, I’m wondering what strategic planning is going on as to anticipating what parcels and what regions of land will be coming out of production and what to do with that land?

Julianne Phillips (Kings County)

We do know that there’s going to be fallowing, but the hard part is figuring out what’s going to be put there in its place,” Ms. Phillips said.  “It would be fabulous if we could say these parcels are going to be fallow or permanently retired, but we’re going to put a recharge pond there.  Those who have done groundwater recharge projects know that areas that are suitable for recharge are highly site specific and we look at the land that we have in Kings County, the land that’s likely to be retired is not going to be the highest quality best producing land.   That’s unfortunate because our highest quality best producing land are the sandy soils that have the almonds on them that would be suitable for recharge, so that grower is going to need a huge incentive to pull that land out of production and put recharge there; then are we seeing a net benefit when the land was going to go fallow anyways is still fallow.  That’s going to be a problem.”

We have had some land use updates where we’ve accommodated solar projects and we do think that’s going to be a use for some of the permanently retired lands, but it won’t be the whole area that’s fallowed,” she continued.  “Unfortunately, looking for other uses for that land that don’t also induce any additional water demand is very difficult, and our recharge land is some of the most valuable, so that’s going to be a challenge to say those are the parcels that should be fallowed and put the recharge projects there.  It’s going to be a challenge.”

Question: I’ve heard it said even in farming circles that we’re not talking about fallowing, we’re talking about abandoning, which is probably an essential step due to a drier future.  So my specific question is, how are you preparing to avoid the negative impacts of fallowing farmland, specifically air quality?  What about the abandoned land that doesn’t restore itself naturally, or looking ways to incentivize or mandate restoration which requires resources and maybe water for a short-period of time to restore farmland to some stabilized state?

Julianne Phillips (Kings County)

One of the interesting things about our county is we have the air base, and what they’ve found is they actually have to actively farm around the base because if they don’t and that land is fallowed, they have vector control issues that bring in birds of prey and they have air strike concerns, so making sure that land is managed in a way that is not impacting specifically air quality,” said Ms. Phillips.  “We’re fortunate that of all the areas in California, we’re the only one that’s seen significant improvement in air quality and we need to keep that going.”

How the GSAs are going to mandate and manage that is different moving forward,” she continued.  “We’ve seen different ag use management actions; some of them are sort of a water collective where if you’re parcel gets a certain amount of water, but it’s not enough to farm on and you don’t have access to a surface supply, then you can sell that to somebody else to use that water and keeping it in the basin to we’re not seeing a loss.  Some GSAs say that’s great, but that’s not a net water reduction; net water reduction is saving some of that allocation for the basin itself, so we would have to put in management actions with that water allocation to make sure that it’s managed and its kept clear.”

We also have a very active mosquito abatement program, and so if there’s standing water and issues with insects and things like that, it also causes a huge pest control problem, not only for the fallowed land but also for the neighboring farm, so it’s going to be critical that they manage that.”


Question: Do your counties have a water resources element in their general plan?  Is SGMA going to either drive an update or addition of the water resources element?  That element could include riparian corridor land use policies and planning in the riparian corridors, for example well placements or well spacing with the depletion of interconnected surface water.  Do you see the general plan and SGMA coming together?

Sierra Ryan (Santa Cruz)

The general plan for Santa Cruz has long been very protective of water resources. “We already have protections, we have a riparian ordinance, we have a lot of zoning ordinances that prevent wells being drilled too close to surface water, we have protection of water quality; it’s already incorporated in our ordinances and our general plan,” said Ms. Ryan.  “We have a lot of prohibitions on wasteful water … even if the general plan itself hasn’t been updated since 1994, we have been continuing to add more protections and requirements on those resources.  When there is the next update of the general plan, there will be references to the GSP and building in that connection, but I don’t expect there will be any substantive changes to the basic protections in the general plan just simply because it’s already been so protective of our resources.”

Lisa Hunter (Glenn County)

In Glenn County, we’re just starting the update process for the general plan,” said Ms. Hunter.  “I am hoping it will open the door for discussion on how to include water resources.  It doesn’t currently have a section for it.  About ten years or so ago, I saw some drafts floating around of work that had been done previously but it never really got included as an amendment or anything, so that will be a good place to start, but our SGMA plan is really just starting, and since the general plan is being updated, it’s a perfect opportunity to see if we can get a little more of our water resources into the general plan.”

Question: How are you integrating all the various types of land use planning documents such as general plans or any ordinances that the County has related to land use planning?  How is the GSA engaging with both the land use planners that are involved in those processes and then incorporating the aspects of those plans into their GSPs?

Sierra Ryan (Santa Cruz)

We’re a very rural-based area and most of the water use is rural, so we’re actually relying a lot on the urban water management planning effort to help inform our GSP,” she said.  “For those of you who aren’t familiar with urban water management planning, it’s done by larger water agencies, and they have to take into account projected population growth, so it’s kind of  circular way that we are involving land use planning.  We have projected growth in the county, we get that information from MBAG which is our association of bay area governments, and they project what the land use planning is; the water agencies take the information on projected growth and the projected land use planning and they work that into their urban water management plans to project future water use.  Then the GSP is taking that information about projected future water use and using that information in our model to inform how much water we need to supply in the future projects and management actions, so it’s a little bit different than some of the more agricultural areas.”

Santa Cruz County hasn’t updated the general plan since 1994 and they aren’t looking to update it anytime soon, she said.  “We’re also not expecting a lot of growth, and the growth that we are going to have is almost entirely concentrated in those areas that are served by those water agencies who are the major pumpers in the basin.  With rural growth, we have pretty strong restrictions in the land use plans and zoning about where you can develop.  We have large minimum lot sizes, and so in the Santa Margarita Basin, there really are no undeveloped parcels that are still even developable, so they are fairly built out except in some of the more urban areas.”

Julianne Phillips (Kings County)

In the Tulare Lake subbasin, the general plan has been included in their basin setting plan.  “We put in the most conservative growth estimate, but with over 800,000 acres and only 40,000 of those being urban and built up, there is not a whole lot of projected growth,” she said.  “With the Kings River GSA, they have the city Hanford within their boundaries, so they also included the city of Hanford’s general plan, and because those are conservative estimates, we don’t think that’s going to have a significant impact.”

There isn’t a lot of projected growth; the main concern is the impact of a reduction in agricultural production.  “If we start to see attrition in agricultural production, then we’re going to see a lot of people leaving those communities, so really it’s important that we have a healthy robust agricultural economy to support those communities so that people who work on farms can also live there.  And those jobs are there.  So that’s an incredibly important piece.”

The general plan has projected growth out to 2035, so five to seven years before that, they will begin planning for the next one.  “That gives us a good way to coordinate and we’ll have a lot of lead time between GSP implementation and when we begin looking at the next general plan where we can say, what are the project and management actions that have been working, where does growth makes sense, where does it not, how can we help, and what are land use policies that we can help put into this general plan that are going to get us to sustainability.”

Tony Morgan (Owens Valley, Fillmore, Piru basins)

There’s very little urban development going on in the Owens Valley; expectations for growth in Owens Valley are basically flat-lined or low single digits.  “There is a little concern about just general expansion of water use for agriculture or ranching or LADWP extractions in the basin, so there’s that kind of pressure, but it’s not pressure from urbanization expansion,” he said.

It’s a little bit different situation in Ventura County.  The city of Fillmore is looking to grow; whether they will be successful is not yet determined.  “That is largely the conversion of agricultural land into urban.  There’s already a water use associated that agricultural operation, and so we’re just shifting that over to urban land use.  The net increase is probably not too significant there.”

The little town of Piru is starting to build more houses out there, partly in demand for low income housing,” he said.  “Those are things that are a little bit conflicting and a little bit of concern to the GSA in Ventura County as to if there are additional demands for housing, how is that going to affect their sustainability efforts.  We’re in the early days of discussing these issues.”

Lisa Hunter (Glenn County)

Glenn County isn’t projecting a lot of growth; Ms. Hunter noted there was a bit of influx after the Camp Fire, but that’s not something you can really plan for, and it was well within the city’s capacity to accommodate that.

We are just beginning a general plan update,” she said.  “It hasn’t been updated since 1993, so it’s been a little while, but it’s actually good timing and a great opportunity to educate the agencies that need to work together, talk about what the issues might be, and to coordinate that on the front end for both the general plan and the GSPs, or at least for the Glenn County portion of the GSPs.  As far as the other parts of the basin, we’ll have to work with other counties and cities to make things work.”

We are also looking at the urban water management plans, the ag water management plans, and other non-traditional planning documents, so irrigated lands regulatory program and those sorts of plans that give us information and help us to make better decisions about land use planning and GSP development together.


Question: Tribal lands and federal lands are exempt under SGMA, but they can be big water users in some of these basins.  How the GSAs are coordinating with those agencies or tribes that have those lands in terms of GSP development to SGMA implementation?

Lisa Hunter (Glenn County)

There are tribes in each of the subbasins, but none of them are located in Glenn County.  “The tribe that we do have is outside of the basin boundaries and they are pretty far from the basin boundaries so they haven’t shown any interest in participating on that level,” said Ms. Hunter.  “We are working with our other GSAs to make sure the tribes area part of the process with continued outreach and finding the best avenue to reach them and find out what the level of interest is and how to communicate with them; it’s going to be a big part of the planning process in each of the subbasins.”

We do have national wildlife refuges in the county, and that’s another exempt piece of land that we have to learn how to work through.  You can’t make the federal government participate but you do have to account for it, so we all struggle with how do we account for that.  I don’t think it’s going to be a large struggle; we keep them on our list, they do come to some of the meetings occasionally so we know they are keeping tabs on it.  They use mostly surface water, so as long as they continue to use the surface water, that helps with the recharge and it helps with the pressure on the groundwater.  I’m hoping it won’t become an issue.”

Tony Morgan (Owens Valley, Fillmore, Piru)

In the Owens Valley, there are both tribal lands and federal lands.  “Let’s take the federal lands first,” said Mr. Morgan. “They are more cooperative, they want to participate, but not directly.  They aren’t going to sit on the board of the GSA, but they are willing to share data and information and all those kinds of cooperative things that would expect to come out of a federal entity, and that’s good.”

The tribal entities are a little bit different picture,” he continued.  “Some of them have their own environmental monitoring programs going on so they are monitoring water levels, water quality, vegetation, and those kinds of things.  It’s been a mixed bag dealing with those folks so far about the willingness to participate.  They wish to be a part of the process most definitely and some express an interest in sitting on the board of the GSA; however, they don’t want to be bound by whatever the conclusions are the GSP nor share the information that they have.  It’s an ongoing discussion as to what their role will be, how cooperative they will be in sharing information.”

We’re kind of in the position right now that if they give us the information, we can’t tell anybody about it.  I can put it in the GSP but I can’t say where I got it, who it came from, and I can’t share the exact location of the well or when the water quality sample was actually collected so there are caveats like that that handcuff your ability to use that data reliably and also sort of fuzzy up the transparency that we’re trying to keep going in the process.”

Julianne Phillips (Kings County)

We have both federal lands and tribal land in Kings County,” said Ms. Phillips. “We have LeMoore Naval Air Station which straddles both Fresno and Kings County.  The majority of it is in Kings County and it falls in the Westside Subbasin, so Westlands is their GSA.  Not only is that area home to our families in service but they also actively farm, which is neat and unique, so they are going to be managed under the Westlands GSP.”

We also have the Tachi-Yokut Tribe and the Santa Rosa Rancheria in Kings County, and they are within the Mid-Kings GSA, and they are aware of SGMA,” she continued.  “SGMA requires that the GSA do outreach to all beneficial users of water and to also manage the water for all beneficial uses, that includes the tribe, so the GSAs conducted outreach and they have that relationship.  But it’s very important to that GSA manager and to the County that what we tell the tribe is purely informational.  If they would like to come to the table to discuss groundwater management with us, that would be welcomed with open arms, but they are not required to and so we never want to give them the message that this is mandatory or anything.  Their current water use is being built in to our groundwater model in the GSP, the question is, well what if that water use increases in the future, well, it’s the GSA’s responsibility to manage the groundwater for all beneficial users including the tribe.  They are exempt from having to participate in any sort of monitoring or management actions, so having to bring that into balance would fall in on the rest of the folks within the GSA, and that’s sort of how the chips fall.  We would love to work with them if they want to work with us, but it’s purely voluntary, and our relationship with the tribe is important to us.”

For more information on land use issues and SGMA, click here to visit the land use page at the Groundwater Exchange.

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