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Chowchilla Subbasin GSP Advisory Committee, June 5, 2023

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By Joel Hastings

The Advisory Committee for the Chowchilla Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Plan met on June 5, 2023, beginning at 10 a.m. in the offices of the Chowchilla Water District in that community. Chair Kole Upton called the meeting to order, invited the committee and observers in person and on Zoom to introduce themselves. When he asked for public comment, Mark Hudson, local grower representing the Madera Chowchilla Resource Conservation District, spoke about a recharge demonstration to be held in the coming weeks.

Groundwater Sustainability Plan

With no other comment and no changes in the agenda, a motion was made and seconded to approve the minutes of the March 15th meeting, which were adopted unanimously. At that meeting, the annual report of the GSP had been approved but the committee was also notified that DWR on March 2nd had made an inadequacy determination of the first revised GSP and referred the report to the State Water Control Resources Control Board (SWCRB). At this March 15th meeting too, the committee recommended that the GSA boards approve the scope of work and budget for further revisions in the GSP.

Subsequently, at their various meetings, the Boards approved the work to be done and here on June 5th, John Davids of Davids Engineering led the presentation of the revisions. With assistance from Peter Leffler of Luhdorff and Scalmanini, he went through a 39-slide PowerPoint presentation. He began by saying that the inadequacy determination issued on March 2nd focused on three areas…

  • Groundwater levels (GWRs)
  • Subsidence
  • Interconnected waterways

He explained that based on subsequent conversations with both DWR and SWCRB, the issue of interconnects could be put off until the 2025 review. But issues around GWRs involved the impact on subsidence, the modeled versus actual data and the impact analysis and mitigation for municipal and domestic wells. Regarding subsidence, he explained that the direction was to combine calculations of residual and new in the “same bucket,” that the management actions must clearly note subsidence mitigation and that there must be impact analysis for both domestic wells and small municipal systems. He described in detail meetings with DWR and or SWCRB staff to get further direction on March 2nd, April 23rd, and May 5th as well as meetings with the technical staff of the Subbasin and the GSA boards as well.

Leffler covered detail around the issues of groundwater levels and subsidence monitoring and modeling. He presented calculations for each five year period going forward to 2040 with both best and worst case scenarios, showing how the final estimates were determined. He answered several questions about some of these specifics from committee members and the public.Technoflo

Geoff Vanden Heuvel of the Milk Producers Council observed that water issues of course continue beyond 2040 and the calculations show ongoing rise in groundwater levels. He said this is not just  paper exercise but a commitment to make real changes.

Doug Welch, committee member and resource director for Chowchilla Water District, explained that with implementation plans in place to bring water use and recharge into balance, those increased levels would occur over time, some years faster than others based on seasonal weather conditions.

Mark Hudson said that growers understand about the need for balance in the Subbasin but want to know specifically what they must do in their own farming operations… how many acres, how much water can be applied, and so forth. Committee member and grower Dirk Vlot said that looking at maps from ten years ago, by making changes in his operations, he has reduced subsidence, in effect “moving it off” his land.

Back On Path

Davids reminded the group that this plan is just the starting point, not the finish line. He said that in meetings with the SWRCB, it had been emphasized that the Subbasin wants to avoid probation and is “putting all of its chips on the table” to get back to DWR oversight. He told the group that in his experience, nothing positive ever comes from a probationary hearing and staff had told him there is a pathway back to DWR jurisdiction. The serious intent of the Subbasin GSAs is detailed in the language of the revision to be submitted… “The GSAs have worked diligently during the review period to make the necessary revisions to the GSP. During the review period, the GSAs have also reviewed DWR’s determinations for surrounding and neighboring subbasins and have used this information to inform their own GSP revisions. In particular, several approaches in the Chowchilla GSP revisions are modeled after the approved Merced Subbasin GSP revisions.”

Much of the detail in this presentation is necessarily omitted in this summary report but the full slide set can be found online at the Madera County Department of Water and Natural Resources website by scrolling down to the Chowchilla Advisory Committee. Here is the link.Lidco Inc.

Vanden Heuvel congratulated the group for its attitude saying that management objectives in other GSAs he is familiar with aren’t as aggressive. With no further discussion, on a motion by Madera County Supervisor David Rogers and a second by Merced County’s Rodrigo Espinoza, the committee unanimously moved to recommend that the GSA boards approve these new revisions to the GSP. The meeting was adjourned at 11:30 a.m.

The boards of Chowchilla Water District, Madera County, Merced County and Triangle-T Water District are scheduled to act in the coming weeks. If all approve, Davids said the revised plan will be ready for submission to the DWR by June 16th.

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The Chowchilla Subbasin exists within the larger San Joaquin Valley Groundwater basin, as described in the California Department of Water Resources Bulletin 118. The County of Madera is the exclusive GSA for the portion of the Chowchilla Subbasin in the unincorporated area of the County, and not otherwise covered by another public agency. Other GSAs in the Chowchilla Basin include Chowchilla Water District, Triangle T Water District and Merced County.