The Kern Groundwater Authority Groundwater Sustainability Agency held a workshop on the Sustainable Management Criteria. Trevor Joseph, DWR explained more about the best management practices. He said it was a requirement for DWR to prepare the BMPs under the law but there is no legal requirement for GSAs to follow them. There may be better ways to do things. He gave some background history to SGMA and reminded everyone local control is the best way to go forward. He said there isn’t a one size fits all method that can meet the sustainability goals in all the sub basins. He reminded folks DWR is both regulatory and tasked to help. It’s the State Board that has the enforcement club, like a baseball bat with nails in it. He didn’t say that, I just wrote that to get your attention.
Joseph listed the six sustainability taboos leading to undesirable results; things like subsidence, degraded water quality and sea water intrusion and such. There are guidance documents prepared by DWR to help implement the BMPs. He said the comment for the Sustainable Management Criteria has closed and there was mostly positive response but there is room to improve things. Another DWR engineer, Craig Altare, lead a tour of the SMC document, also known as Section Three in SGMA. He said he wants to help GSAs avoid the undesirable results. There are activities that must be completed before the BMP can be implemented. Understanding the basin and outreach need to be in place. Once you know these things a GSA can start whittling away any of the undesirable results such as sea water intrusion in the San Joaquin Valley.
Those undesirable results that could be defined as significant and unreasonable must be addressed. If one part of the sub basin would be more vulnerable to subsidence, for instance, it could be designated a management area separate from the rest of the sub basin. Once the significant and unreasonable conditions are identified they must be quantified. Once quantified the result must be measured against specific metrics to determine the minimum threshold. These thresholds must be documented. Altare used declining groundwater as an example although he said there are an infinite amount of scenarios that could apply. The GSP sets the minimum threshold for the groundwater levels and this must also be documented and quantified.
Can groundwater elevations be a proxy indicator? Sometimes, sometimes not. For subsidence it would work, for water quality not so much. If a GSA did try to use groundwater levels as a proxy to water quality it would have to show why this applies. The application of the GSP begins in 2020 with the objective to achieve the measurable goal by 2040. Every five-years the results must be documented to show the paths to sustainability. These paths are defined locally and will vary based on local conditions. Some basins will get worse before they get better and some will be able to start improving right away. However, all the undesirable results must be eliminated by 2040 and coordinated for the entire basin.
Altare gave an example of how this would work in a hypothetical situation. In scenario One there were eight wells/hydrographs and one of them were over pumped for a little while. That in itself didn’t trigger an undesirable result as the entire sub basin was able to pass the goals. Scenario Two has three wells between 2020 and 2030 that didn’t meet the goals but that was included in the GSP and the situation was resolved by 2040. No problem. Scenario Three – the same three wells didn’t stop overdraft by 2030 but weren’t able to stop the problem by 2040 and that resulted in undesirable results. When things get tight it is possible for a GSA to refile an amended GSP.
Joseph then took the mic back and said this is the process for local agencies to retain local control in developing what sustainability means. DWR has to look at quantitative data to determine if the sustainability goals are the correct ones.
Under questions Dr. Scott Hamilton, consultant, asked what would happen if a worst drought where to hit, what would trigger the state to move in? Joseph said the state doesn’t want to be punitive in this case but to work together to get back on path. He doesn’t expect the GSPs to predict the future every five-years but does want to see how the path could be adjusted to reach a goal. There was another question about the size of the Kern River Sub Basin. There are areas not hydrologically connected within the sub basin and what would happen if one section fails while the rest meets its goals. Joseph said there is a legal requirement the entire sub basin achieves sustainability. He said it is up to the locals to sort this out.
Altare said sustainable yield is defined in SGMA and must be defined by quantitative data. This will determine pumping levels. Tim Gobler, engineer, asked about site specific groundwater levels and was told it takes more than one site to determine the results. Gobler asked if there are sites that overdraft would they negate all the sites that don’t overdraft, if I understood him correctly and if I understood Altare correctly, that would be defined at the local level. Joseph said there is not an automatic takeover of the sub basin by the State Board. There is a procedure in place to declare a sub basin in probation that requires staff going before the State Board. There is some warning and that was that.
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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.
The Kern Groundwater Authority membership:
Arvin-Edison Water Storage District, Cawelo Water District, City of Shafter, Kern County Water Agency, County of Kern, 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