The Madera County Board of Supervisors met on June 13 at the county government office building on 4th Street in Madera. Public comment was invited after the opening formalities of the regular meeting. Local grower Mike DeLaGuerra wanted to comment on behalf of Madera Ag Water Association (MAWA) but was asked to speak later during the GSA board meeting to follow. Joshua Babcock, a member of Congressman John Duarte’s staff, spoke about two bills supported by Duarte. One was to make further investment in water infrastructure in California. The other was to address supply chain improvements, especially in western ports. Supervisor Chair David Rogers said he wanted the board to support those two proposals. With no further public comment, the board recessed for a few minutes until the 10:30 start time of the public hearing.
The county supervisors acting as the GSA board opened the public hearing at 10:30 a.m. On the agenda were two resolutions regarding the GSP for the Chowchilla Subbasin. The first was to consider further revisions in order to obtain Department of Water Resources (DWR) approval for the Plan. And the second was to consider an amendment to the MOU regarding domestic well mitigation to include small municipal systems as well as private wells that supply drinking water, also an issue addressed by DWR.
To open the session, Stephanie Anagnoson, director of the county Department of Water and Natural Resources, led off with a brief review. She said the Madera GSA represents acreage not in any water district located in three subbasins. Delta-Mendota Subbasin is covered by many GSAs, its GSP has already been found inadequate by DWR and has been referred to the State Water Resources Control Board. The Madera Subbasin GSAs are lagging behind a bit with revisions submitted in March but with Madera Irrigation District not adopting them.
The Chowchilla Subbasin is covered by GSAs from Madera and Merced Counties, Chowchilla and Triangle T Water Districts. The GSP originally submitted was determined to be incomplete. It was revised but then on March 2, 2023 received an inadequate determination from DWR. Areas of concern were groundwater levels and land subsidence. The firms that had drafted the plans – Davids Engineering and Luhdorff & Scalmanini – were charged with developing further revisions that would be approved by DWR in order to avoid a probationary hearing with SWRCB.
With the Chowchilla Subbasin GSA Advisory Committee composed of representatives of all four GSAs, including Supervisor Rogers, meetings were held with DWR officials to assure them of the sincere intentions of the group to work together towards sustainability. On June 5, the committee heard from the engineering firms, then discussed and approved the proposed changes. The GSP revisions were sent to the four GSAs for action so that the revised plan could be submitted to DWR as promptly as possible.
Chairman Rogers said, speaking about the committee, “We have been trying to comply and we want to comply.” He said he thinks there will now be a different result if these revisions are included in the GSP. With that, he invited public comment.
DeLaGuerra again took the podium to read a prepared statement on behalf of MAWA. He referenced a letter sent to the board dated May 30th. He reminded the group that MAWA has worked with its members, other growers, and GSA staff “to help shape SGMA implementation in Madera County white areas.” Acknowledging the difficulties, he said the letter pointed out several issues. Here he wanted to call attention to the need for the adoption of policies and rules regarding on-farm recharge. He referenced the draft of a conceptual framework that had been approved at an earlier meeting. He said his organization was ready to work together and he urged the board “to move quickly on this matter and others mentioned in the letter.” He concluded by citing two upcoming meetings – one on land repurposing to be held on June 14 and one set for June 21 regarding grower experience with on-farm recharge. He thanked the board for the opportunity to provide these comments.
Speaking next was Devin Aviles who identified himself as head of AgWorld Cooperative, a firm managing significant pistachio acreage in Madera County. He said his owners early on made a commitment to support SGMA efforts towards groundwater sustainability in the county for the long term viability of the basin and to understand how their trees would respond to the new requirements. He said his firm had enrolled in Irriwatch to participate in the validation of that technology. He said his owners had also committed to staying within the water allocations as required. He said both decisions had “backfired” on the company.
He went into some detail on how Irriwatch had over-estimated ETAW (Evapotranspiration of Applied Water) on their acreage before the software corrections had been implemented. They appealed the ETAW totals Irriwatch showed on their acreage in the first quarter of 2022. He objected to denial of the appeal by the official consulting firm that heard their case. He complained that other growers who ignored the allocations suffered no consequences. He said his firm should be allowed to carry over 1400 A/F, the amount of water in dispute. He submitted a longer written statement with more detail to the board for the record.
With no further public comment, the public hearing was closed at 10:50 a.m. The board discussed learning more detail about the Duarte bills at their next meeting and then approved both GSA resolutions by a unanimous roll call vote. The meeting adjourned before 11:00 a.m.
Editor’s note: A report of the Advisory Committee meeting held June 5 can be found at WaterWrights.net. The full detail about the GSP revisions approved at this meeting as were presented to the Advisory Committee are included in a PowerPoint presentation posted on the Madera County Water & Natural Resources Department website and can be found here.
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Madera County is comprised of three subbasins, designated by the CA Department of Water Resources as critically overdrafted, and “high priority”: (1) the Chowchilla Subbasin; (2) the Madera Subbasin; and (3) a portion of the Delta-Mendota Subbasin. Each of these subbasins submitted a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) by January 31, 2020. These subbasins are required to achieve “sustainability” by the year 2040. The method by which sustainability will be achieved will be illustrated in the GSP, which was be drafted in partnership by the irrigation district, water districts, cities and Madera County. The Madera County Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), covering the “white areas” not included in any water district, is administered by the Madera County Department of Water and Natural Resources: Stephanie Anagnoson, Director, 200 W. Fourth Street, Madera, CA 93637, (559) 675-7703 x. 2265 or (559) 675-6573. The County of Madera Board of Supervisors is the Board of Directors of the GSAs for the three subbasins. The current board is composed of five members: David Rogers, chair, Letitia Gonzalez, Robert Macaulay, Robert Poythress and Jordan Wamhoff.