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Greater Kaweah GSA January 5, 2022

Bermad irrigationThe Greater Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency held an outreach meeting on pumping limits, pump caps, live and in person at the World Ag Expo facilities and for guys like me, on Zoom. Sources who attended in person tell me the room was full and there was maybe 150 people or more who took time to  be there.  This all took place Wednesday, January 5, 2022. General Manager and all around nice guy Eric Osterling started the meeting at 1:35pm. He started by introducing three fine young men, Chairman Don Mills, GKGSA board member Chris Tantau, Stakeholder Committee Chair Johnny Gaily and one fine young lady, attorney Aubrey Mauritson. The meeting was recorded and will be available on the GKGSA website www.greaterkaweahgsa.org

The Meeting

Osterling told everyone just what the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is, where it came from and where it may be going. He also spoke about what a Groundwater Sustainability Agency is and what it does. He didn’t shy aware from telling folks there are rules and regulations designed to bring the GSA into compliance. There will be enforcement and it won’t be free.

As Sacramento is wanting to do SGMA is an unfunded mandate – you have to do what we say and you have to pay for it. In this case the Kaweah Subbasin is overdrafted by 80,000 a/f and the paying for the efforts to correct this imbalance will come from the pockets of landowners and businesses, pretty much everyone who lives in the Valley will be impacted at some level.

The money is being spent on amongst other things developing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan that will map out how the area can become compliant with the SGMA requirements. And there is the cost of employing specialists like Osterling capable of implementing and managing the process.

The Pumping Cap

The draft plan is to present landowners an annual allocation. There are tiers if you over pump. But everyone gets the first 10 inches as sustainable yield. The proposed costs of Tier One is $75 per a/f. Tier Two is $125 per a/f. If more is pumped than Tier Two there are some consequences. There is the cost of $500 per a/f and you’ll lose at a one to one ratio future allocations. If I understood correctly the amount that can be pumped without penalty most years will be between two and half and three acre feet measured by evapotranspiration. Keep in mind this a temporary amount, a transitional stop gap. There is still a walk down that ends in 2040. In fact keep in mind things discussed in this meeting are in draft form.

If you under pump you can carry over the unused amounts on a rolling-five-year schedule. The sustainable yield and both tiers may be transferred up to a four mile radius from a well. This is going to be on a case by case basis.

Measuring Amounts

Osterling explained evapotranspiration is one of the critical measurements. Expect a rapid expansion of metered pumps. The accounting and burden of proof will be on the surface water providers and overlying pumpers. He said something that has been repeated over and over many times* – data is king. An online water dashboard leveraging existing features and data from the Irrigated Lands Program should be unveiled this spring. So far there are no plans to monitor domestic wells.

One of the primary goals Osterling shared is the tiered pricing must be careful about generating more revenue than needed. So, how any money spent will be carefully reviewed. Isn’t that nice? Seriously, when’s the last time you heard a government agency promise to be careful with the money it receives.

Land IQ and Open ET are two satellite based evapotranspiration monitoring systems available. Osterling said GKSGA is using Land IQ even though Open ET is free. Land IQ has its own ground truthing network manned by an army of technicians and its results are increasingly immediate. Open ET doesn’t have much in the way of ground truthing at present.


Members of the audience stepped up to the podium and there were online questions as well. There was a Dr. Amir, don’t know who he is, had a long series of questions. He wanted to know the scientific justification for setting pumping caps and measurable objectives. Osterling explained the law requires it and there was as much investigation that could be had by Provost & Pritchard and GSI engineers to arrive at these preliminary numbers. Amir also asked about wasteful ditches evaporating supplies and Osterling reminded him SGMA is groundwater and not a surface water matter. There are many cases of unlined ditches and canals contributing to recharge.

A dairyman named Rick Petro (perhaps?) asked how a satellite can tell the difference between dairy water and pumped water. You can’t tell if the dairy water being applied causes ET that came from a ditch or a pump. Osterling said he met with Gaily, Geoff Vanden Heuvel of Milk Producers Council and Dave DeGroot of Four Creeks Engineering on this topic, which is admittedly a difficult topic. How to accurately account for this water is being looked at by knowledgeable folks.

Another gentleman whose name wasn’t clear asked in a heavy accent, like German or something – Swiss maybe? He asked about how accurate water levels can be determined with the diversity of plants in neighboring parcels. I’d like to tell you what that was all about but the screen locked, the audio went away and the logo for the company doing Spanish interpreting filled the screen. Thankfully the Kings River Conservation District’s Rebecca Quist was on hand to make things right. So before long the meeting was back up.

But the logo for the One Voice Linguistica Team has two clip art women with raised fists. Why? Don’t they know that this symbolism can be very non-inclusive and make others uncomfortable? If I had to rely on an interpreter I’d want one unbiased enough to not feel compelled to display social and political causes in their marketing. I’d want at least a feeling I’m going to get accurate information. In comparison, my first choice wouldn’t be a company with a donkey or an elephant on its logo to explain political matters. And SGMA is political.

When I tuned back in I heard Osterling assure someone the funds derived from fees will be intensely accounted for. A speaker said to be careful all recharge from grant funded projects are credited to GKGSA so the credits go where they are deserved. Osterling said this is the default position at all times.

Mills added the Department of Water Resources hasn’t made it clear how land retirement will be treated. Will DWR view land purchased specifically to retire and gain groundwater credits or can a piece of property be fallowed temporarily? I believe it’s helpful at this point to separate political theater from reality. Elected officials and increasingly appointed ones too, tend to present their plans as complete, visionary and transformative stews of improvements with big chunks of moral high ground floating in savory sauce of beneficence – ignoring the bitter, gag inducing taste of unintended consequences. While in the part of the world that has to deal with reality like engineering and agronomy and feeding one’s family, folks are having to create as they go. The GSAs are creating an entirely new system for groundwater management. And so are the workers in Sacramento tasked with monitoring and enforcing the results. DWR is as new to SGMA as anyone else and I can tell you I’ve lost count of the SGMA topic meetings I’ve attended, but I’ve never once heard anyone speak poorly of DWR’s efforts to work cooperatively with the GSAs.

There was an online question – will the pumping cap start this year? Osterling said it will start at the new water year in October unless hydrologic conditions are drastically degraded due to a drought this year. In that case adjustments may come earlier.

It was asked if unpaid penalties will be on the landowner’s tax bill. Mauritson said the assessments will be on the tax bill but not the penalties. She also noted the issue of the extra costs comes from SGMA and not the local GSAs.

Online asked what good a GSA does a white area. Osterling said the alternative for white areas not in GSAs is to have the State Board take over their SGMA compliance. He said the GSAs are trying to get as much help to white areas as possible. (In case you aren’t aware there is a San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint that in my opinion is the best hope for not just white areas but all of the Valley’s groundwater sustainability. There is also a More Water Now ballot initiative that will bring funding from all over California to help all of California’s water needs.) https://waterblueprintca.com/ and https://morewaternow.com/

There were questions about subsurface recharge technology and Osterling said all possible solutions are on the table. Another question was – what can a farmer without surface water do if he doesn’t have enough groundwater credits?  Will he have to take out portions of his orchards for example? Osterling gave what I believe is the most honest answer there is to this question – it’s up to the landowner. Again, the GSAs are trying to help keep as much productive land producing as possible.

An online question was how the 10 inch safe yield was reached and if a large land fallowing footprint can be a solution. Osterling explained there three sources of groundwater: imported, salvaged and native water. Examples for the GKGSA would be water imported from the Friant Kern Canal, salvaged water from rivers and streams and native water from precipitation.

I asked if there are concerns the legislature may change the rules midstream. Osterling said there was some clean up bills after SGMA was passed but that has slowed down. It could be there will be more bills once the GSPs are being implemented and there has been talk about a GSA organization, maybe do some lobbying. Good answer and I appreciated the candid response. Since GSAs are enacted under state law and depend on grant funding from the state it would be in their best interests to have an outside organization advocating for them. Or at least that’s how it seems to me. One might recall under the Clinton administration Microsoft had a tepid lobbying presence in Washington DC and the feds went after them.  There are lessons to be learned there.

A lady asked how public water systems will be involved in sustainability. Sorry ma’am, I did not catch your name. Mauritson responded that the most critical issue is ag land. But there is a placeholder for public water systems and plans are being looked at with stakeholders. Right now there isn’t anything solidly proposed for domestic systems within the Greater Kaweah GSA. In some GSAs cities and water companies are assessed. But there are provisions for domestic pumping exemptions.

That brought the meeting to the two hour mark. There were no more questions from the audience or the online bunch. So, the meeting was declared over and folks took off. It was a good meeting. The audience was informed yet still asking questions. That indicates folks were engaged and willing to dig a little deeper. Everyone was polite, remember this is water in California and polite is not a given. Let’s follow the lead of the GKGSA meeting and go be good to each other and ourselves.

DISCLAIMER OF RESPONSIBILITY; Waterwrights strives to provide its clients with the most complete, up-to-date, and accurate information available. Nevertheless, Waterwrights does not serve as a guarantor of the accuracy or completeness of the information provided, and specifically disclaims any and all responsibility for information that is not accurate, up-to-date, or complete.  Waterwrights’ clients therefore rely on the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of information from Waterwrights entirely at their own risk. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not represent any advertisers or third parties.

*Triple redundancy in one sentence.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2022 by WaterWrights.net/DAW

SGMA The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 calls for the formation of Groundwater Sustainability Areas within Basins and Sub-basins to develop Groundwater Sustainability Plans.

Greater Kaweah GSA JPA – Chair Don Mills-Lakeside Water ID, Vice Chair Chris Tantau-Kaweah Delta WCD, Pete Vander Poel-County of Tulare, Ernie Taylor-Kings County WD, Stephen Johnson-Cal Water Service, Eric Shannon-St Johns WD, Paul Boyer-Rural Communities Committee, Joe Cardoza-Stakeholder Committee & Brian Watte-Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District representative.

Eric Osterling-General Manager/Secretary, Aubrey Mauritson-Legal Counsel

Offices shared with the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District, 2975 Farmersville Blvd., Farmersville, CA 93223   Tel. 559/747-5601


DWR Listing: Basin San Joaquin Valley, Sub Basin Kaweah 5-022.11





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