The Kern Groundwater Authority Groundwater Sustainability Agency held its Wednesday, April 27, 2022 board of directors meeting on Zoom from somewhere in beautiful downtown Bakersfield. Things kicked off with Chairman Dan Waterhouse calling the meeting to order at 8:00am, the scheduled start. I thought that was going to be iffy because of some audio problems but they ironed out all difficulties in the nick of time.
After taking roll call we all saluted the flag, agreed to meet remotely and there were no public comments. After approving the minutes Treasurer Marinelle Duarosan upheld her usual impeccable standard and presented the financial report which was accepted.
I was a little disappointed to find attorney Valerie Kincaid didn’t have anything for open session. I’m not trying to blow smoke and hash idle flattery but some of the most informative times I’ve spent in meetings has been when Kincade was speaking. There are two potential litigation items on closed session. So, who outside of the boardroom knows?
Executive Directors Report
Patty Poire, KGA Executive Director started her report and the board agreed to extend Task Order 19 for some work the GEI engineering firm is doing for the agency.
Next Poire strongly urged KGA adopt a revised Exceedance Policy to meet Department of Water Resources approval on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Waterhouse said this revision has been vetted pretty thoroughly by the members’ home boards and management and Poire said the home boards should have decided to adopt this and everyone was on board but Rosedale Rio Bravo Water Storage District who voted nay and they didn’t tell me why.
Poire said last month’s executive order by Governor Gavin Newsom had an impact on issuing well permits that involved GSAs. There has been a scramble to decide how to deal with this. Counties typically issue the permits but the order now requires GSAs to review and comment on the permits issued for wells in their jurisdiction. An acknowledgement letter to help provide legal cover for the GSA and the county has been drafted by KGA and that is an approach to address the uncertainty the Executive Order brought about being discussed here. The gov’s order includes parts 9a and 9b. Part 9a says a GSA has to review a well permit to see if it complies with the GSP. Part 9b said a new well can’t cause subsidence or negatively impact a nearby well. Part 9a is on the GSA and part 9b is on the county. She said currently when a well permit is issued Kern County sends her a copy and this is sent to the members who then either comment or don’t as they see fit.
In my experience many of the GSAs and counties in the Valley have already started this process before the Executive Order and this is yet another example of unintended consequences that come from skirting sufficient input from those who are impacted most by such orders and increasingly legislation. In this case the order sparks what amounts to a well drilling moratorium.
The laws establishing SGMA set a Herculean task before the GSAs but it is a challenge largely being met. Now in classic autocratic form the elected and appointed in Sacramento are trying to get their nose and nuts in the middle of it to wallow around and leave their mark. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see who actually wrote and approved the wording of the Executive Order – and if any non-government input was solicited and received? Local control was the big selling point of SGMA. Where is the local control in this?
Poire said the Assembly Water & Parks Committee had a hearing on AB-2201 by Assemblyman Steve Bennett of Santa Barbara. This bill will codify some of the provisions of the executive order and add some more of its own. Before we go further I want to tell you I phoned Bennett’s office and unsurprisingly the assemblyman wasn’t sitting at his desk waiting for me to call. But staff graciously offered to pass on some questions for a possible future interview. The only reason I’m sharing this with you is getting access to grinding gears in Sacramento has become a bigger challenge the longer one-party rule has been in place. So, maybe we can get an idea behind some of the thinking. For instance, there is suspicion the Governor is going to stonewall on clarifying his order as a power play.
Poire said in her opinion all wells, not just ag should be reviewed. Poorly designed domestic wells could tap into water quality problems or be drilled so shallow as to create an immediate target to other nearby wells setting up legal showdowns between landowners or landowners and disadvantaged communities.
Waterhouse said the acknowledgement letter still needs to be approved as agreeable language by the County Board of Supervisors. Kincade said the governor sent the GSAs a hot potato with his order and this approach passes it on to the well owner. She said as long as the applicant understands the well is subject to SGMA and agrees to abide to this arrangement fully the technical details of the well’s impact on the GSP should come out eventually. Kincade said she still isn’t completely comfortable with the possibility of legal exposure to the GSA. The board agreed to pass this draft letter on to the county to get the process moving.
Like just about every GSP out there Poire said the Kern Subbasin GSP was not approved. Poire gave a brief update to the board about the rewrite and
Water Association of Kern County is having a summit in May and there will be several panels and KGA has a seat. She said it should be a very interesting day and would like up to seven directors to sit with her if they’d like. I love the annual WAKC gathering. That’s why we’re a media sponsor. You get great panel discussions, a mini ag-show, good company, networking opportunities and a good lunch. At 8:44am the meeting went into closed session.
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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.
Staff: Patty Poire – Executive Director, Valerie Kincaid – Attorney, Marinelle Duarosan – Treasurer
The Kern Groundwater Authority membership:
Chairman: Dan Waterhouse.
Arvin-Edison Water Storage District, Cawelo Water District, City of Shafter, Kern County Water Agency, Kern-Tulare Water District, Kern Water Bank Authority, North Kern Water Storage District, Olcese Water District, Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District, Semitropic Water Storage District, Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District, Southern San Joaquin Municipal Utility District, Tejon-Castaic Water District, West Kern Water District, Westside District Water Authority & Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District
DWR Listing: Basin San Joaquin, Sub Basin Kern 5-022.14