Kern’s groundwater agreement is just cover for the “pump club”

February 6, 2020
by Lois Henry
Lois Henry

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A coordination agreement approved Wednesday by the Kern Groundwater Authority is just cover for continued overpumping, according to the Buena Vista Groundwater Sustainability Agency, which has refused to sign on to the document for a five-year term.

It’s unclear if that refusal may put the entire Kern subbasin into probationary status under the state’s new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Probation comes with serious consequences, including a pumping plan imposed by the state and fees of $300 per well and $40 per acre foot pumped.

Buena Vista General Manager Tim Ashlock said his folks know the stakes. But a coordination agreement that doesn’t include serious oversight of how other agencies are implementing their groundwater sustainability plans is worthless.

A revision to the coordination agreement meant to assuage Buena Vista’s concerns actually raised eyebrows even further, according to Ashlock.

Coordination Agreement Proposal 2019-12-05 12.12.19 clean (1)

The revision states that signing on to the coordination agreement is not an endorsement of another agency’s plan. It’s just a promise to continue coordinating, KGA Planning Manager Patty Poire said at Wednesday’s meeting.

“That kicker they added, it’s just saying ‘leave us alone and we’ll continue to pump all we want,'” was Ashlock’s interpretation. “The whole thing is a circle so they can protect each other and their pump club.”

Rather than a hands-off approach, Buena Vista would prefer a structure where the GSAs have some kind of oversight of each other’s operations.

Ashlock had previously called out Semitropic Water Storage Distirct, which has shown an overdraft of 166,000 acre feet a year (about 65 percent of the total overdraft by all 16 KGA members), as an egregious over pumper without any real plans to correct its overdraft.

At Wednesday’s KGA meeting, Semitropic General Manager Jason Gianquinto disputed that. He gave a short presentation of his district’s current and planned measures to reduce water demand. Some of those include:

  • Water budgets for each parcel.
  • Tiered water charges for any water use above those budgets.
  • Fallowing 39,000 acres.
  • A disincentive to open new lands for farming, which started in 2017.

Buena Vista isn’t convinced.

Ashlock said his agency would be willing to sign a one-year agreement, but not a five-year agreement. He plans to submit the one-year agreement to the Department of Water Resources to show Buena Vista is acting in good faith.

There isn’t much time to iron out these issues as all groundwater sustainability plans in critically overdrafted subbasins, such as Kern, must be filed with DWR by Jan. 31, 2020. The DWR then has two years to review the plans and deem them adequate or send them to the State Water Resources Control Board, SGMA’s enforcement arm.

A DWR spokeswoman noted SGMA doesn’t define a minimum term for coordination agreements.

“But one of short duration might affect the ability of the agencies to satisfy all the requirements of the regulations,” Joyia Emard wrote in an email.

DWR officials have said previously that plans submitted without signed coordination agreements can’t be accepted and will go straight to the Water Resources Control Board, which would decide whether to put a subbasin into probationary status.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

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