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Friant/Arvin Edison Sue Eastern Tule GSA, February 22, 2024

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By Don A. Wright

Here’s what we know about a lawsuit filed with the Tulare County Superior Court. The Friant Water Authority and the Arvin Edison Water Storage District filed a lawsuit against the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency alleging breach of a settlement agreement regarding Eastern Tule GSA’s actions and/or lack of actions to reduce subsidence along the Friant Kern Canal that are harming downstream deliveries. Friant and Arvin Edison also claim Eastern Tule owes them money according to the settlement.

This legal action may have implications for the Valley and how Sustainable Groundwater Management Act disputes may be handled in the future. Both Friant Water Authority and the Eastern Tule GSA are Joint Power Authorities. This means they are organizations made up of two or more public agencies to administer a common goal. In Friant’s case there are 20 directors from different agencies listed on its website. These 20 agencies receive water from the Friant Kern Canal and work together as a JPA to administer various duties to operate the Canal. Eastern Tule GSA lists seven member agencies working together as a JPA to be compliant with SGMA.

Here’s the strange part, or one of the strange parts – four of the entities making up Eastern Tule are also members of the Friant Water Authority. So in a way, both JPAs are suing themselves. Likely to be much more on this subject in the coming weeks. The following are press releases from both parties.

February 16, 2024: Johnny Amaral, FWA Chief Operating Officer / Chief of External Affairs  / 559-799-6192

Jeevan Muhar, AEWSD Engineer-Manager  / 661-747-0062

Friant Water Authority and Arvin-Edison Water Storage District File Lawsuit Against the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency for Breach of Settlement Agreement and Interference with Contract for Water Deliveries

The Friant Water Authority (FWA) and the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District (AEWSD) have filed a lawsuit against the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency (ETGSA) in Tulare County Superior Court for breach of a settlement agreement between the parties regarding land subsidence impacts to the Friant-Kern Canal and for intentional interference with AEWSD’s contract with the United States Bureau of Reclamation for water deliveries conveyed through the canal.

The water delivered by the Friant-Kern Canal, which is operated and maintained by FWA (and owned and managed by the Bureau of Reclamation), is vital to the economy and the public health and welfare of the San Joaquin Valley. Land subsidence caused by “overdraft” groundwater pumping has severely reduced the delivery capacity of the canal causing extensive impacts to, among others, water agencies such as AEWSD that rely on water deliveries from the canal.

The ETGSA is responsible under State law for sustainably managing the groundwater basin under its jurisdiction and to minimize land subsidence and subsidence-related impacts to critical infrastructure such as the Friant-Kern Canal.

FWA and AEWSD entered into a settlement agreement in 2021 with ETGSA under which it agreed to pay FWA for subsidence damage to the Friant-Kern Canal caused by the over-pumping of groundwater by landowners within ETGSA’s boundaries. ETGSA also agreed to take steps to avoid or minimize further subsidence damage to the canal.

While ETGSA has taken some of the actions it agreed to under the settlement agreement, it has failed to live up to its core responsibilities – with serious consequences for the Friant-Kern Canal        and all who rely on it. For more than a year, FWA and AEWSD have tried in good faith to resolve this dispute short of litigation. But ETGSA’s repeated refusals to follow through on its commitments left FWA and AEWSD with no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit.

In their complaint, FWA and AEWSD allege that ETGSA has, among other things, failed to:

  • Establish and maintain required penalties for unsustainable overdraft groundwater pumping;
  • Timely collect and remit penalty proceeds to FWA for purposes of repairing extensive damage to the canal caused by overdraft pumping-induced subsidence;
  • Adopt and implement effective management actions that limit further subsidence impacts to the canal;
  • Include a FWA representative in a standing committee authorized to recommend management actions to limit further subsidence; and
  • Timely enforce the required metering and reporting of groundwater pumping from deep wells in certain land subsidence management zones.

ETGSA’s actions and, in many cases, failures to act, have caused additional subsidence, damaged the Friant-Kern Canal, deprived FWA of funding to repair and restore the canal, and interfered with AEWSD’s contract for water deliveries from the Bureau of Reclamation.

Statement by Jason Phillips, FWA Chief Executive Officer, “The 2021 settlement agreement between FWA, AEWSD and ETGSA was hailed at the time as a landmark agreement, one that would serve as a guide for other regions dealing with the same water management, subsidence, and groundwater issues facing the southern San Joaquin Valley.

“The basic, yet unique premise of the agreement was that FWA agreed to support the efforts of the ETGSA to implement their groundwater sustainability plan, as long as the forecasted additional subsidence that would occur along the Friant-Kern Canal was properly controlled and mitigation funding was provided to assist FWA’s efforts to restore the delivery capacity of the canal. FWA viewed this approach as a preferable alternative to other, more confrontational options.

“FWA has spent considerable time, energy, and resources trying to work with the ETGSA to improve its practices for managing and minimizing subsidence impacts, particularly as to the most important piece of water infrastructure on the east side of the valley, the Friant-Kern Canal.

“Unfortunately, after all of that effort and commitment, we’ve gotten to this point where subsidence has continued at an alarming rate, while at the same time, water accounting and management practices by the ETGSA have resulted in groundwater pumping penalty revenues falling well short of what was envisioned in the agreement. It’s become clear that without additional intervention from the courts and others, the unmitigated impacts to the Friant-Kern Canal will continue and possibly accelerate.

“It is also clear that local control over management of the ETGSA is not working and is undermining the important principle we all pushed for in the Valley to maintain local control of our groundwater basins. The path we are on currently certainly does not work for FWA, it’s not working for the disadvantaged communities whose water supply, water quality, and jobs are at stake, and it’s not working for our project partners at the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources who have contributed tens of millions of dollars towards fixing the damage done to the canal.”

Statement by Edwin Camp, AEWSD Board President, “For nearly 60 years, AEWSD and its landowners have relied on the 152-mile Friant-Kern Canal (from Fresno to Bakersfield) to support high-value agriculture and conjunctively manage its surface and groundwater resources. Subsidence impacts to the Friant-Kern Canal have significantly impacted AEWSD’s water supply reliability to the detriment of its landowners and the region including the groundwater resources used by local water systems that serve drinking water to the residents of the City of Arvin and other severely disadvantaged communities.

“AEWSD wishes to protect the Friant-Kern Canal from continued subsidence and related impacts to its conveyance capacity and exorbitant maintenance costs. AEWSD’s ability to supply water to its landowners, while managing towards sustainable groundwater conditions, relies on maintaining the canal conveyance to deliver its contracted surface water. Unfortunately, the current groundwater overdraft and subsidence trends within ETGSA are not acceptable and we have run out of options in working with the ETGSA towards a path of mutual sustainability.

“We are extremely disappointed with ETGSA’s continued refusal to comply with the settlement agreement which has diverted funding intended for the urgently needed Friant-Kern Canal Project, undermining significant investment by the Friant family and its state and federal partners. The ETGSA groundwater market is taking mitigation money from the Friant-Kern Canal Project and enriching the pockets of ETGSA landowners. This is particularly concerning in light of ETGSA’s failure to prepare an adequate Groundwater Sustainability Plan and ongoing violation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.”

For the For Immediate Release: Contact: Rogelio Caudillo (559-781-7660)

February 21, 2024


Porterville, CA – FWA and Arvin Edison Water Storage District have filed a complaint against the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency (ETGSA) for breach of contract in the Tulare County Superior Court.

The complaint seeks damages from ETGSA, along with a declaration from the Court that ETGSA must collect and pay funds to FWA for subsidence along the Middle Reach of the Friant-Kern Canal, while also avoiding or minimizing additional subsidence.

The ETGSA Chairman and Tulare County Supervisor Dennis Townsend commented, “It is unfortunate to see resources, both time and money, expended on litigation matters versus collaborative and solution-oriented approaches. The ETGSA was formed in 2017 to improve groundwater management in the context of significant legacy challenges, including overdraft and land subsidence. The Agency will continue honoring the terms of the settlement agreement and will continue on its path to sustainability.”

The ETGSA, along with the Tule Subbasin and six other critically overdrafted basins covering nearly the entire Central Valley, including the Kern Subbasin, have had Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) deemed inadequate by the Department of Water Resources (DWR). The ETGSA is working diligently toward updating sustainability goals and receiving approvals from DWR and the State Water Resources Control Board. As an example of that, the GSA is on its fourth year of implementing an allocation methodology with charges to its landowners for excess groundwater pumping. Other areas have not yet imposed any allocations or groundwater extraction cutbacks, whatsoever.

The ETGSA General Manager Rogelio Caudillo commented, “All GSAs in this situation are frantically working towards revising yet again the Groundwater Sustainability Plans to be compliant with DWR and State Board standards. Importantly, the ETGSA continues to work with Community Water Center, Self-Help Enterprises, and other non-profit entities serving domestic water needs, to ensure mitigation plans are acceptable. It takes time to correct the years of overdraft conditions that have caused current conditions in the Tule Subbasin. The ETGSA will continue to work with our stakeholders and community leaders to achieve sustainability and ensure domestic well needs are met.”

As noted in the complaint, Tea Pot Dome Water District, Porterville Irrigation District, Saucelito Irrigation District and Terra Bella Irrigation District are all member agencies of the ETGSA, a Joint Powers Authority. These four entities also are member agencies of FWA, a Joint Powers Authority and co-plaintiff in the lawsuit against ETGSA.

Steve Kisling, Vice-Chairman of the ETGSA and President of Saucelito Irrigation District commented, “It is unfortunate to see litigation ensue between the two Joint Powers Authorities with combined member agencies. The financial impact from these decisions is suffered directly by the growers who are incurring charges for the prosecution of the lawsuit and the defense.”

Further information regarding the ETGSA and the ETGSA GSP can be found on its website,

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