The Madera subbasin’s groundwater plan appears headed for state rejection after one of the region’s seven groundwater agencies refused to approve the most recent version of the plan.
Madera Irrigation District (MID) was the one dissenting agency that did not approve the plan and blamed other groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) for delays and inaction.
“Madera Irrigation District has long voiced concerns over the Joint Groundwater Sustainability Plan that was approved in 2020, and, in particular, the implementation of (and failure to implement) that Plan by the Madera County Groundwater Sustainability Agency,” MID staff wrote in the press release.
The Madera subbasin includes seven GSAs all of which must have coordinated plans in order to be approved by the state.
One of those GSAs is run by the county, which took control of so-called “white lands,” or acreage not covered by an irrigation or water district, which assess landowners to pay for imported water, canals and water storage. Instead, farmers in white land areas typically rely exclusively on groundwater. Without a surface water supply, or funding to buy a supply, options to reduce groundwater use are much more limited.
The imminent rejection of the plan means the Madera subbasin could be taken over by the state Water Resources Control Board, though that would be a lengthy process. If the Water Board does take over, it would set its own groundwater pumping allotments and charge hefty fees and penalties, a situation most water managers have tried to avoid.
“It’s unfortunate because there was a lot of coordination going into it,” said Stephanie Anagnoson, director of water and natural resources for Madera County.
From MID’s perspective, the district has invested in projects to reduce groundwater pumping and increase to recharge while other GSAs have delayed and failed to act which will contribute to dropping groundwater levels and put domestic wells at risk, according to its press release states.
MID, “is disappointed in the lack of meaningful action by other GSAs, and specifically the Madera County GSA. Unfortunately, the revised GSP (groundwater sustainability plan) failed to address these very impactful changes and factors” said Thomas Greci, general manager of MID, in the press release. “MID cannot approve a plan that does not provide the accountability necessary to ensure other GSAs, including the Madera County GSA, likewise meet their obligations.”
The Madera County GSA has indeed faced turbulent decision making and hot debate over groundwater regulation. In January, Madera County supervisors voted to maintain current pumping allotments for the next two years rather than ramp them down. And in September of 2022, the Madera County board of supervisors delayed a decision to enact groundwater overpumping penalties.
The county was also sued by growers over GSA fees in the fall of 2022.
At one point, “there had been coordination. And I think that’s what is maybe surprising,” said Anagnoson. “I don’t really know that anything surprises me anymore.”
If it gets the thumbs down, the Madera subbasin plan won’t be alone. On March 2, six other San Joaquin Valley GSA plans were rejected by the state Department of Water Resources. DWR has been in charge of reviewing plans and the Water Board is the enforcement arm under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.