Ag well permitting process still causing confusion in Kern County

June 22, 2022
by Lois Henry
An agricultural well pumps groundwater into a standpipe in Kings County in this April 2022 photo. CREDIT: Lois Henry
Lois Henry

PROPOSED AG WELL LAW

Amendments to a bill that would require greater scrutiny of agricultural well permitting would make farmers responsible for making sure the well doesn’t harm existing wells or cause subsidence, land to sink.

Counties and groundwater sustainability agencies have been battling over who should make those findings, which could make them liable if someone were to sue, since similar requirements were laid out in an emergency drought order issued by Gov. Newsom in late March.

The amendments to AB 2201, by Steve Bennett (D-Ventura), would put the onus for those findings on the well applicant, typically a farmer, who would have to hire an engineer, which isn’t currently required.

The well application would also have to be posted on the permitting agency’s website for public comment for 30 days.

The bill has passed the Assembly and was re-referred to the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance.

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Kern County hasn’t issued a single agricultural well permit since early April and frustration in the ag community is at a boiling point.

Ag well permitting slowed to a crawl up and down the San Joaquin Valley after Gov. Newsom issued an emergency drought order on March 28 that added an extra layer of scrutiny to new and refurbished ag wells.

The order requires groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) to provide written verification that the proposed

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