The Kern Groundwater Authority Groundwater Sustainability Agency held its Wednesday, May 25, 2022 board of directors meeting in Bakersfield and on Zoom. Just before the meeting started there were 22 participants online not counting the members present in the meeting room. It looks like the conference room of a law office on West California Avenue they used to use pre-Sino Cooties. Speaking of California Avenue. I stayed overnight in Bakersfield last Wednesday. I booked a room through Trip.com at the Extended Stay America hotel on California Avenue just east of Highway 99. I’d strongly advise against anyone doing the same. I basically made reservations to sleep at a homeless shelter.
The meeting began slightly later than the scheduled 8:00am start. Chairman Dan Waterhouse called the meeting to order and the board voted to allow certain directors to meet online. There was some problem with the remote guys chiming in but they got the message and participated. The great flag of the United States of America was saluted and public comments and minutes were next.
Jesus Alonso from Clean Water Action spoke about the GSP at Lost Hills and wanted to know if a response to CWA’s comments are forthcoming. And they are. Tiffany Harker from Bring Back the Kern said she was there to learn more about SGMA and what that means to Bakersfield. The State Water Resources Board is reviewing the water rights on the Kern River and there are some folks who would like to see the river run year round through Bakerfield. It would be nice to see water in the channel instead of sand and bent out of shape shopping carts. But before the Kern River was dammed at Lake Isabella it often didn’t make it past Bakersfield in dry years.
Under the minutes there was a change suggested by Wheeler Ridge and Arvin Edison Water Districts about some business before they left the KGA and formed their own GSA. The minutes were approved. North Kern Water Storage District General Manager Dave Hampton gave the financial report and it was approved.
Valerie Kincade reported on a white paper adopted by the California Water Commission. This included directions to DWR to help develop a water trading program for GSAs that won’t harm DACs. That’s got some problems when you single out one action under SGMA. The state continues to thrust its nose and nuts into a law created specifically to operate under local control.
Kincade said the State Out of Control Board has been issuing curtailment orders and it sounded like the State Board’s efforts to curtail groundwater pumping isn’t within its authority. However, the State Board was able to curtail enough Delta diversions to monkey up the State Water Project. The urban area goals are to restrict water usage to 55 gallons per day per person. Kincade made the point that California’s government operates by staggering from drought to drought with emergency orders instead of planning ahead.
Kincade said DWR gave an update on SGMA to the State Board, which acts as the backstop for Groundwater Sustainability Plans that aren’t approved. She said the State Board is hiring 70 more employees to help enforce whatever draconian probationary measures the nonelected State Board imposes. She also said there is no clear path for a subbasin to get out of probation. There are many questions, what roll does the State Board, DWR, and the GSA play? Who can represent who? What evidence is acceptable? The State Board’s roll at that point isn’t included in SGMA. The State Board also has a history of authorizing itself authority based on authority it gives itself to authorize its own authority. It would be very good for the State Board to issues some guidelines and remove such uncertainty.
Waterhouse said he listened in on that presentation and asked if remote sensory data will be accepted as well as metering. Kincade said, if I understood that is the case. Also yesterday a group of tribal and others petitioned the State Board to redo the Bay Delta that will put the kibosh on Voluntary Agreements. It will put tribal interests at the head of the line and jeopardize all other agreements. Many on the side of “social” justice claim the State Board is obligated by law to grant their petition. There is a 30-day deadline for the State Board to respond.
Patty Poire, Executive Director started her report by saying she doesn’t like to begin by asking for money but today she has no choice. GEI Engineering is asking to extend its task order and this would be a cost share with the member districts. With the South of the Kern River GSA breaking away from the KGA they both have to revise their GSPs. Make sense? Revising the GSPs under the current revisions being considered by DWR isn’t as easy to explain as you’d think. But the KGA board agreed to pay GEI’s extra charges and the new GSA won’t have to pay but will have to work out its own deal if it wants that task order conducted in its area. The board agreed.
Next Poire said Lawrence Livermore Lab wants to help the Kern Subbasin get the straight skinny on subsidence. Poire said it’s not just water being pumped; Kern County oil is also in play. The KGA is the only GSA in the subbasin willing to participate. She said it shows DWR decisions being made about subsidence impacting transportation corridors will be better informed. Highways 99 and I-5 run through KGA. It also shows DWR the KGA’s willingness to use outside investigation and not just its own consultants. Lawrence Livermore already works with DWR. The board agreed to a subsidence study and will cough up a check.
Poire said the board adopted a budget back in October and she’s tried to be as frugal as she can. There hasn’t been a cash call since September 2021and she has to ask for money again. It wasn’t an action item since it was included in the budget.
Next she said Rosedale Rio Bravo WSD has requested to remove a clustered monitoring well and that takes some paper shuffling to accomplish. The KGA and DWR have to get involved since this changes the monitoring slightly. The board agreed.
Poire said KGA managers are meeting weekly to work on the revisions needed for DWR to approve the GSP. She said she believes there has been good progress. There will be a meeting with the DWR folks who manage the California Aqueduct staff. Much of the DWR personnel are new to this situation and need some education. Tom Watson of Aqualogic is the consultant being used.
The GSP will be amended to two plans, one for the KGA and one for the new South of Kern River GSA. (That is the official name of the new GSA.) This looks like a relatively acceptable alternative to DWR. Kincade met with Paul Gosselin, DWR’s top man on SGMA and it went well. Poire said the goal is to get the GSP over the line by July. She said as long as everyone works collaboratively this can happen. She said to expect more engagement with the board and there may be more meetings but it can be done. Kincade added DWR is aware and sympathetic to the endeavor. The same data and methodology must be used subbasin wide, so that hasn’t changed. She also said to take a minute and enjoy the $7.6 million grant the KGA just won for basin studies.
Just a note about the new South of Kern River GSA. It is actually three GSAs combining to produce one GSP. Arvin Edison WSD, Wheeler Ridge Maricopa WSD and Tejon Castaic GSA have signed a Memorandum of Agreement to jointly produce a GSP. Many thanks to Arvin Edison General Manager Jeevan Muhar for helping me get a little closer to accurate on this.
Waterhouse invited board members to give reports or updates but they remained quiet. He said he agrees with Poire on the optimism to be expected by the good, hard work on getting SGMA moved down the road in the right direction. The meeting then went into closed session at 9:05pm. Go be good to each other and yourselves.
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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.
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
DWR Listing: Basin San Joaquin, Sub Basin Kern 5-022.14