The Board of Supervisors of Madera County acts as the Board of Directors of the county Ground Water Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) which cover three subbasins in the areas of the county not included in the several irrigation districts, each of which is its own GSA. These are the so-called “white areas” of the county which rely almost exclusively on groundwater pumping for agricultural water as well as for many residential and small community wells. The meeting was held in the committee room of the county building in Madera with the Supervisors and staff on hand, but with public access through online technology.
At this meeting, the agenda focused on the adoption of an allocation system, allowed (and required) by SGMA. An Advisory Committee and the Board itself has been working on this project for nearly two years and last month, the Committee submitted its final report which was received by the Board at its November 17 meeting.
The session opened with a presentation by Stephanie Anagnoson, director of the Department of Water and Natural Resources for the county, who is the lead staffer for this effort. She reviewed key elements in the plan. She said enviro transpiration measurements of crops in the county GSAs reflect a significant upward trend in water use in recent years. The proposed allocations are consistent with SGMA and the GSPs and are required to avoid “undesirable results,” the main one of which is the continued depletion of the groundwater.
Referencing the work of the Advisory Committee, she explained the key points of the plan characterize two types of water… sustainable yield and transitional use, with transitional use being reduced over time. Once every five years, property owners will have an opt-in opportunity to apply for use of transitional water. The plan also includes farm unit zones and monitoring water use by satellite technology. She said the staff recommendation is to adopt the resolution presented to the Board. The document is available here.
Chair David Rogers complimented the work by Anagnoson, her staff and the committee but asked what year are we expecting groundwater reduction to take effect, perhaps 2022? Anagnoson replied the rate study needs to be completed in order to set rates for pumping water. Supervisor Robert Poythress, who was attending virtually, said it appeared it will be 2022 or 2023 before reductions begin.
Madera County Farm Bureau Executive Director Christina Beckstead was on hand at the committee room explaining that the five-year targets are what’s important. She said there needs to be a 10% reduction of transitional water use by 2025 rather than a specific amount each year. Growers are waiting for clarification of specifics. She also commended Anagnoson and her team “for the great work.”
Madeline Harris of the Leadership Council, who had been on the Advisory Committee this past year, also commended board for its focus on demand reduction, especially considering residential water use and use by small and socially disadvantaged farmers. She said it appears domestic wells are running dry when they are clustered around areas of large-scale ag use. She said her group hopes concentrated areas of over pumping can be minimized and it very much supports demand reduction.
Supervisor Brett Frazier said he knows that people can make plans “based on yes or no, but not maybe.” So, he supports fleshing out the details and guidelines. That said, he moved for approval of the resolution. Tom Wheeler offered a second and the resolution passed unanimously on a roll call vote.
Anagnoson thanked the Board and then provided a brief update on several other projects that are underway. She said the department’s consulting firm is working on a rate study, a data management system is underway, and a place of use expansion is being discussed with the Bureau of Reclamation for water outside Hidden Lakes. A third public trial for a water market will be held under a current grant. And there will be a satellite technology workshop on Jan. 20. Work continues on domestic well inventories under Prop 68. Lastly, she said that work on a flood control plan was being “kept afloat” with grants funds. A permit has been submitted to Fish & Wildlife that would allow property owners to remove sediment from along several stream beds.
Chair Rogers thanked her for her report and the GSA portion of the board meeting ended at 10:55 a.m.
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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) 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; Brett Frazier; Robert Poythress; Max Rodriguez; and Tom Wheeler.