Dennis Hutson’s rows of alfalfa, melons, okra and black-eyed peas are an oasis of green in the dry terrain of Allensworth, an unincorporated community in rural Tulare County. Hutson, currently cultivating on 60 acres, has a vision for many more fields bustling with jobs. “This community will forever be impoverished and viewed by the county as a hamlet,” he says, “unless something happens that can create an economic base. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
While he scours his field for slender pods of ripe okra, three workers, community members he calls “helpers,” mind the irrigation station: 500-gallon water tanks and gurgling ponds at the head of each row, all fed by a 720-foot-deep groundwater well.
Assembly Bill 658, signed into law last week, creates new temporary diversion permits allowing for excess surface water capture during high-flow events. Permits automatically expire after 180 days, unless renewed. The law is designed, in part, to encourage groundwater recharge projects that could assist groundwater sustainability agencies and other local agencies to achieve groundwater sustainability requirements under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, known as SGMA.
The Third District Appellate Court recently issued a long-awaited decision in Environmental Law Foundation vs. State Water Resources Control Board (ELF v. SWRCB). The decision confirms the expansive scope of California’s public trust doctrine by ruling that the doctrine applies to the extraction of groundwater if the extraction will adversely impact a navigable waterway. The court also determined that the 2014 enactment of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) did not displace the common law duty to consider public trust interests before allowing groundwater extractions that could potentially harm a navigable waterway. The case arose in the context of a lawsuit over Siskiyou County’s (the County) obligations in administering groundwater well permit and management programs with respect to the Scott River, a navigable waterway tributary to the Klamath River. The Scott River is a public trust resource.
Read more from the National Law Review by clicking here.
To survive the next drought and meet the looming demands of the state’s groundwater sustainability law, California is going to have to put more water back in the ground. But as other Western states have found, recharging overpumped aquifers is no easy task.
Successfully recharging aquifers could bring multiple benefits for farms and wildlife and help restore the vital interconnection between groundwater and rivers or streams. As local areas around California draft their groundwater sustainability plans, though, landowners in the hardest hit regions of the state know they will have to reduce pumping to address the chronic overdraft in which millions of acre-feet more are withdrawn than are naturally recharged.
We in California are depleting our groundwater aquifers faster than we can replenish them. Over the last few decades in the San Joaquin Valley, that deficit has averaged close to two million acre-feet per year, a total that was exacerbated by drought conditions that may become more common as the climate continues to change.
To help reduce this deficit, state lawmakers and Governor Brown in 2014 passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, which aims to overhaul the way growers, cities and other water users manage the resource.
While many hail SGMA as a success in state legislation and others say the law represents government overreach, most seem to agree: It could change agriculture and the economy in the San Joaquin Valley in a very big way. In this interview, we talk about the nuts and bolts of SGMA with Stephanie Anagnoson, Director of Water and Natural Resources with Madera County.
Funding opportunities: It’s not too late to apply for SGMA Planning Grant funds; Help with technical assistance; State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP)
FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: It’s not too late to apply for SGMA Planning Grant Funds
This is a friendly reminder that there is still time for groundwater sustainability agencies and partner agencies to submit applications for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Planning (SGMP) Grant Program which has at least $47.5 million to award for activities related to the development of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan. DWR has significantly streamlined the process from the last SGMP round making it still feasible for an applicant to prepare and submit a competitive application. Grant applications can be submitted using GRanTS, DWR’s online submittal tool, and will be accepted until 1 p.m., on Friday, November 1, 2019. For more information, call (916) 651-9613 or email the program at SGWP@water.ca.gov.
FUNDING ASSISTANCE OPPORTUNITY: Free assistance offered through WaterNow’s Project Accelerator
Is your utility or city trying to get a water initiative off the ground but doesn’t have enough time? Does your municipality want to launch a water efficiency program but needs more information or capacity? Perhaps your community would benefit from rebate incentives but you need more research or best management practices to implement?
You’re not alone. Many cities and utilities want to adopt innovative water programs but they require time and resources to implement. And let’s face it, the everyday workload of most utility staff probably doesn’t include bandwidth to accomplish new tasks.
WaterNow has the answer – and it’s FREE!
The WaterNow Project Accelerator can help advance a project or program that could provide sustainable solutions to stormwater, wastewater, and water quality challenges in your community. Fill out an application and we will select two projects to receive professional hands-on support and technical and program assistance ranging from deep water policy expertise to communications strategies. Project Accelerator offerings include up to 250 hours of professional support in 3-6 months (valued at $25,000 each).
FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP)
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is now accepting applications for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), a competitive grant program that incentivizes farmers to invest in irrigation water and energy efficiency. Agricultural operations can apply for up to $100,000 for projects that involve improvements to irrigation systems, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save water. Projects funded through SWEEP commonly include elements such as soil, plant or weather sensors; micro-irrigation systems; pump retrofits or replacements; renewable energy; and variable frequency drives – among others.
Applications are due Monday, December 16, 2019 at 5 p.m. CDFA will hold three no-cost workshops to provide information on program requirements and the application process. Webinar participation is available, but applicants are encouraged to attend in person.
SWEEP Application Workshops:
Willows, CA – Monday, October 28, 2019
2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Glenn County Office of Education
311 South Villa Ave.
Willows, CA 95988
Register for webinar participation at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/1423354487948559883
Modesto, CA – Tuesday, October 29, 2019
10 a.m. to noon
Stanislaus County Agricultural Center
Harvest Hall, Room DE
3800 Cornucopia Way
Modesto, CA 95358
Register for webinar participation at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3882162654329651469
Bakersfield, CA – Wednesday, October 30, 2019
9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
University of California Cooperative Extension
1031 S. Mount Vernon Avenue
Bakersfield, CA 93307
Register for webinar participation at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6168234245452706317
Potential applicants should review the application materials posted on the SWEEP webpage at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/oefi/sweep. A list of CDFA-contracted technical assistance providers is also available on the SWEEP webpage. These organizations are available to provide no-cost application assistance to farmers who would like to apply for a SWEEP award.
This round of SWEEP is authorized by the Budget Act of 2018 and funded through the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018 (SB-5).
Butte County: Chico-based environmental group concerned about domestic wells as farmers propose new groundwater district: “County water officials went to the Butte County Farm Bureau about four years ago with a message: The 2014 passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)—a sweeping regulatory program intended to curb overuse of the state’s aquifers—will prove crucial to farmers dependent on groundwater, and it was time to get organized. Rich McGowan, who sits on the farm bureau’s board of directors, told the CN&R that the county’s agricultural groundwater users—primarily growers of almonds, walnuts, pistachios and other tree crops—had been unorganized at the time, working individually or in splintered groups in contrast to the county’s more organized surface water users. … ” Read more from the Chico News Review here: Chico-based environmental group concerned about domestic wells as farmers propose new groundwater district
Salinas Valley, Marina groundwater plans under public review, at odds: “Groundwater management plans have been released for public review by both the Salinas Valley and City of Marina groundwater sustainability agencies even as the deadline for submitting final plans looms less than four months away with no agreement between the two agencies in place and California American Water’s desalination project at the center of a dispute. Last week, both the Salinas Valley groundwater agency and the Marina groundwater agency released their plans for 45-day public review periods that will extend through Nov. 25, the week before Thanksgiving. They have also announced plans for public workshops on the plans. … ” Read more from the Monterey County Herald here: Salinas Valley, Marina groundwater plans under public review, at odds
New groundwater law will have significant impact on Valley farmers starting in 2020: “The new year will bring new concerns over how much water farmers, cities, and school districts will be able to pump out of the ground. A groundwater sustainability plan drawn up during the California drought will take effect in January, which will set new limits on how much groundwater can be pumped out of wells. The impact of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, will be significant. Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland are expected to be fallowed as a result of the new law. … ” Read more from KFSN here: New groundwater law will have significant impact on Valley farmers starting in 2020
Multi-million dollar plan proposed to change Kings County groundwater management: “Kings County’s groundwater management will begin a 20-year transformation in 2020. Five local groundwater agencies presented more information behind the groundwater sustainability plan (GSP) in a public outreach meeting Thursday night. Groundwater is a significant source of California’s water supply and can be found in groundwater basins, which contain aquifers, according to Bill Pipes, principal geologist of Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions. … ” Read more from the Hanford Sentinel here: Multi-million dollar plan proposed to change Kings County groundwater management
Tulare County: Less groundwater likely available: “The East Tule Groundwater Sustainability Water Agency is racing the clock when it comes to meeting the state’s requirements by next year but the message is this: Those who use groundwater will have to prepare for the possibility of pumping 10 percent less than they have in the past, beginning as soon as next year. That was the message at a joint meeting of the agency’s stakeholders and executive board held on Thursday. While it’s still unknown how much less those who use groundwater will actually have to pump from the ground, an analysis presented on Thursday showed it’s likely less groundwater can be used as soon as next year. … ” Read more from the Porterville Recorder here: Less groundwater likely available
Owens Valley Groundwater Authority update: ” The Owens Valley Groundwater Authority has set up what seems like a permanent residence in Limbo—still no final word on how the California Department of Water Resources has prioritized the valley’s aquifer. While the basin went from medium to low last spring that designation has not been finalized. The deadline for medium Groundwater Sustainability Plans is still early 2022. … ” Read more from Sierra Wave here: Owens Valley Groundwater Authority update
Ridgecrest: LADWP not bailing out Indian Wells Overdraft, for now: “The critical aquifer overdraft in the Indian Wells Valley has been viewed with dread at Owens Valley Groundwater Authority meetings. Between growth in Ridgecrest and the Naval Air Station at White Sands, the area’s groundwater is in overdraft. The Owens Valley basin, on the other hand, appears to be in decent shape with a yet unverified “low” priority rating. So, why does the OVGA cringe at any mention of Indian Wells? ... ” Read more from the Sierra Wave here: LADWP not bailing out Indian Wells Overdraft, for now
Ridgecrest: Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority board discusses fiscal direction: “The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority will scale back some of its work with Capital Core Group, the contractor responsible for grants and researching alternate sources of water and take a harder look at its current pump fee and expenses in order to get a handle on the future expenses. The IWVGA board looked over its future budget predicament in a lengthy discussion on Thursday, a month after it received a report about a dire fiscal scenario should things continued unaltered. … ” Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent here: IWVGA board discusses fiscal direction
Study Not Optimistic About Groundwater Injection for Montecito Basin: “There are limited opportunities for groundwater augmentation in the Montecito basin, consultants told the Montecito Water District board of directors on Tuesday. GSI Water Solutions and Geosyntec studied indirect potable reuse feasibility in the district, which involves treating wastewater to a potable standard and injecting it into the groundwater basin. Tim Thompson of GSI talked about the hydrology of the Montecito basin and specific storage areas studied for potential indirect potable reuse injection wells. ... ” Read more from Noozhawk here: Study Not Optimistic About Groundwater Injection for Montecito Basin
Supervisors vote Wednesday on withdrawing San Diego County as Groundwater Sustainability Agency for Borrego Valley groundwater basin: “Faced with a state mandate to reduce water use by 75 percent after years over over-pumping groundwater, major water users in Borrego Springs have submitted a stipulated agreement for reducing the desert community’s water use by an estimated 75 percent. On Wednesday, San Diego County Supervisors will vote on withdrawing as a groundwater sustainability agency for the Borrego Valley Groundwater Basin, with a goal toward transitioning into water management. ... ” Read more from East County News here: Supervisors vote Wednesday on withdrawing San Diego County as Groundwater Sustainability Agency for Borrego Valley groundwater basin
Groundwater managers across the state are looking to groundwater recharge as a potential solution to their community’s water challenges. However, there are concerns about how groundwater recharge in the age of SGMA actually works and how to ensure sufficient instream flows to protect those beneficial uses.
To address these questions, the Local Government Commission and the Clean Water Fund held a webinar to find out more about recharge, environmental flows, water rights, and permitting from a panel of experts. First, Stacey Sullivan from Sustainable Conservation talked about Flood MAR; next Sam Boland-Brien from the State Water Resources Control Board talked about the Environmental Flows Workgroup and permitting issues for groundwater recharge; and then Pablo Garza with the Environmental Defense Fund discussed policy issues related to groundwater recharge.
Read more at Maven’s Notebook here: GROUNDWATER RECHARGE: Balancing our depleted groundwater supplies and ecosystem needs
Five years into SGMA, here are five important considerations for balancing groundwater quality and quantity
California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), signed into law five years ago, requires local leaders to balance groundwater demand and supplies for the first time. Groundwater is an important foundation of California’s water system, and SGMA is a crucial way of strengthening that foundation and creating a more resilient future for the state.
However, balancing groundwater budgets will not be easy. And this major challenge is further complicated by the fact that activities designed to increase groundwater supplies can unintentionally cause new groundwater quality problems or worsen existing contamination.
A new working paper that Environmental Defense Fund co-authored with Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences; Green Science Policy Institute; and the Energy and Environmental Sciences Area of Berkeley Lab outlines how groundwater management activities can affect not only the quantity but also the quality of groundwater.
Click here to read more and download the report: Five years into SGMA, here are five important considerations for balancing groundwater quality and quantity
Building the capacity to resolve disputes and work together is critical for a sustainable water future.
However recent analysis conducted by Water in the West, the Gould Center for Conflict Resolution and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis suggests that alternative dispute resolution processes are rarely used even when included in water management agreements.
Given the long and expensive history associated with litigation in California and beyond, these findings suggest that local and state agencies should be doing more to educate their members on the value of alternative dispute resolution processes, like mediation and facilitation.
Read more from Stanford’s Water in the West here: Dispute Resolution Processes: Thinking through SGMA Implementation