By Joel Hastings
Using the ubiquitous Zoom technology, the Madera County GSA Advisory Committee meeting was held June 4, 2020 and called to order at 2 p.m. by Devin Aviles, committee chair. He expressed the hope that Zoom would behave, and the meeting would go smoothly. Jeannie Habben of the Madera Department of Water and Natural Resources also outlined the ground rules, especially as regards the all-important muting function. (Only once was a barking dog heard in the background from somebody.)
After the call to order, callers were invited to stand for the pledge of allegiance, followed by the roll call and a review of the agenda. Stephanie Anagnoson, department head, called the roll with 14 committee members in attendance from a total of 20 members and alternates. There was no public comment.
A responsibility of the GSA and part of the plan submitted to the state is helping rural residents in obtaining safe drinking water. Ms. Anagnoson provided an overview of the domestic wells and systems section of the agenda. This item will be on each agenda going forward. She began by explaining that often homeowners moving into rural areas do not understand water wells and septic systems are the responsibility of the property owner. These devices have finite lifespans, are subject to wearing out and wells can go dry in droughts. Also, for those on limited incomes, the cost of repairing or replacing water and sewer systems can be prohibitive.
In both Madera and Chowchillas GSPs, opportunities to assist have been investigated. Last year, the Self-Help committee gave a report and there was another ad hoc committee formed to investigate what can be done to monitor and assist with domestic wells. There are short term solutions, such as bottled water and filter systems. Longer term, forming water associations with neighbors and finding grant and government funds can be critical to underwrite well repairs and replacement.
The extent of the problem is not really known since there are data gaps in the information and county records only go back 10 years. Committee member Jerry Kasynski asked about obtaining a “report card” that would document the status of these residential wells. The answer is data is not complete…there is no count of domestic wells in the Madera Sub Basin.
There is a fund run through Emergency Services, which supplies tanks for non-potable water combined with bottled water for drinking. Administering this program is very time intensive for staff who are dealing with stressed people, Anagnoson explained.
Committee member Madeline Harris was pleased to see this program on the agenda now and in the future. She pointed out that people are being disadvantaged because there is no signed coordinating agreement in place among the Madera Sub Basin GMAs and therefore the GSP has not been approved. She says there should be an ad hoc committee restarted to protect domestic wells and small systems that can respond promptly.
Attorney Mike Linden reminded the group that the only GSA that did not sign the coordinating agreement for the sub basin was New Stone. All parties are going to mediation next Friday, June 12th. Later in the meeting, Chairman Aviles asked, and Ms. Anagnoson replied that there is no word from DWR and the State Water Board regarding the lack of a fully executed coordinating agreement. Sacramento will be updated after the mediation meeting. Linden also said that all GSPs have not been officially evaluated, because they are considered to be incomplete due to the lack of a coordination agreement. Angela Islas asked about posting of the Madera Sub Basin annual report, and it was explained it is posted on the website https://www.maderacountywater.com/
In her Director’s report, Ms. Anagnoson said all three sub basins – Madera, Chowchilla and Delta-Mendota – had turned in their required annual reports about April 1st. (Madera County is in all three.) There is cost sharing with the other two sub basins for a data management system. She referenced the second workshop held April 30 on the water market grant. She reported feedback was good and substantive and people are thinking about what rules might need to be in effect if there is to be a water market.
A Land Conservation Grant was awarded to determine how land retirement might work. There are also grant supported studies about water recharge and water rates. Four proposals are being reviewed for satellite meter technology for ground water monitoring, in consultation with the neighboring Madera Chowchilla Water Association and county Farm Bureau.
Agenda item #8 entitled “Allocations” is really the gorilla sitting in the middle of the room. SGMA requires and the GSP states that groundwater outflows must be brought into balance with groundwater inflows by 2040 with “no economic, social, and environmental undesirable results.” Madera is in a “highly overdraft” situation, especially in the “white areas,” land not part of any irrigation district and with 98percentage of water used for agriculture. Common sense and the GMA’s document itself say that balance can be obtained in a combination of three ways… increase recharge, decrease groundwater extraction and reduce crop consumptive use. With all this in mind, you cannot envy the challenge faced by this committee.
It was noted by consultant Greg Young that options for demand management have been talked about – pumping fees, a change in the well ordinance i.e. controlling the number of new wells, land retirement and easements. He said he wants to keep the discussion “at a high level, speaking generally about allocations in the three sub basins,” that is the amount of groundwater to be made available to each GSA in each sub basin. He said in the county, you have a fixed amount to be allocated. Transitional water which is continued over-drafting needs to be zeroed out by 2040. Long term, of course, the quantity of groundwater pumping must be sustainable.
He said in considering allocations, there are pitfalls to avoid. If you over-allocate, you won’t ever reach stability / sustainability and you might bring new land into production. The amount of water we have for the future is significantly less than amount of transitional use now. Allocations will have impacts on business decisions about how farming is done into next 20 years. The administrative burden is real. It will add additional stress to Stephanie’s (Anagnoson) department.
Chairman Aviles said growers want these [allocation] numbers sooner rather than later so the committee needs to push forward with decisions.
Open discussion ensued first from committee members and then the public with several advocating for water markets, so that farmers would go into a market and buy what they need which will impact returns on their crops. This was said by committee member Jim Maxwell.
Another voice said he did not believe well moratoriums can be “instantly” established since that would put the well drilling industry out of business. Another said the program should not allocate more water for high use crops.
Committee member Jay Quick advocates a water market to help eliminate problems of overdraft. Some might want to retire land and that water can be used for recharge, he said. He said every day that goes by, the water table goes down. We are in critical overdraft. He asked, are farmers going to meet the two percent reduction this year as called for in the plan?
Included were comments from the public. Joseph Gallegos wants to encourage a water market in the Madera area. Jack Rice commented that many farmers do want to act so the price of water, an accounting system, is known so farmers can invest in new technologies to reduce water.
Sid, whose last name was not given, said we are half-way thru the first year, is there a plan to implement demand reduction? Another question was asked about the number of acres that might be required to be reduced over time and had any acreage been taken out of production so far?
Ms. Anagnoson replied to these questions saying the county GSA has a robust plan to talk through these issues, working on demand management, asking for grants and that there are no clear-cut solutions in the Valley.
Greg Young commented, “We’re dancing around some of the big issues. You guys need to begin talking about this.” He continued saying, some say water markets are needed, but what water is to be allocated, even if there is a market? If you do not know what you have, you don’t know what you are in the market for.
At the end of the discussion, Chairman Aviles responded about question of growers trying to reduce water use by two percent this year. “Yes, we are,” he declared. He said growers are testing new technologies and farming practices. He said, “We are doing everything we can to keep our farms going and employees employed.”
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Madera County GSA includes three sub basins, designated by the CA Department of Water Resources as critically overdrafted, and “high priority”: (1) the Chowchilla Sub basin; (2) the Madera Sub basin; and (3) a portion of the Delta-Mendota Sub basin. Each of these sub basins submitted a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) by January 31, 2020. These sub basins 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 drafted in partnership by the irrigation district, water districts, cities and Madera County.
DWR # 5-022.6
The Madera County Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) 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 GSA Advisory Committee Members for 2020 are as followed (organized by name, sub basin, and representational group): Albert Guravage, Non-Permanent Ag- Alternate, Al Solis, Residential- Alternate, Ben Pitman, Livestock- Alternate, Bryant Elkins, Madera -Non-Permanent Ag, Clay Daulton- Residential, Clay Haynes- At Large, Devin Aviles, Madera- Permanent Ag, Darcy Volt- Livestock, Greg Hooker, Non-Permanent Ag- Alternate, James Unit, Permanent Ag- Alternate, Jared Samarin- Delta-Mendota, Jay Quick, Residential- Alternate, Jerry Kazynski- Residential, Jim Maxwell, Chowchilla- Permanent Ag, Karun Samran, Permanent Ag- Alternate, Larkin Harman, Chowchilla- Non-Permanent Ag, Leadership Council, DAC- Alternate, Mike DeLeGuerra, At Large- Alternate, Sam Lopes, Delta-Mendota- Alternate, Self-Help, DAC- Alternate, Teresa Mendoza- DAC, Vicki Ortiz- DAC