State hears from the public on potential take over of groundwater pumping in the Tule subbasin

April 5, 2024
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
by Jesse Vad, SJV Water
The Tule groundwater subbasin covers the southern half of Tulare County's valley portion. Local agencies did not create an acceptable plan to bring the aquifer there into balance so now the state Water Resources Control Board is considering taking over pumping in the region.
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
Jesse Vad, SJV Water

In-Person workshop

The state Water Resources Control Board will hold an in-person workshop explaining why the Tule groundwater subbasin faces possible probation on Monday, April 8 at 5:30 p.m.

Interested persons may attend the workshop to be held at the Porterville Veterans Memorial Building 1900 W Olive Ave, Porterville.

There will be a presentation, question and answer period and public comments will be received starting at 7 p.m.

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The Tule subbasin is next up to face the state in a groundwater probation hearing. Staff from the state Resources Water Control Board held a public workshop on Friday to go over its recommendations and hear from the public prior to the hearing on September 17. 

Probation is the first step toward possible state takeover of groundwater pumping. If that happens, state bureaucrats would set pumping limits, require meters on all wells and charge  fees for every acre foot pumped as well as issue steep fines to growers who go over their allotted amount. 

The hearing is the outcome of the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which mandates that over drafted subbasins bring aquifers into balance by 2040. Regions were allowed to come up with groundwater plans locally but the Tule subbasin plan was twice found inadequate and now faces state enforcement.

At the April 5 workshop, which was held virtually, Dorene D’Adamo, vice chair of the Water Board, said the board has not yet decided whether the Tule subbasin, which covers the southern half of the valley portion of  Tulare County, will be placed on probation. D’Adamo said one of the main reasons for the workshop was to hear questions and concerns from the public. 

Water Board staff ran through some of the primary problems in the subbasin and why they are recommending the board put it into probation. 

The Tule subbasin has 561 domestic wells that are susceptible to going dry in the next drought, said Ameneh Tavakol, water resource engineer for the Water Board. Keeping those wells safe is one major concern. 

Subsidence, land sinking, is another pressing issue in the subbasin. 

The Tule subbasin has seen an average of 2.4 feet of subsidence since 2015. The worst of it has been in the northwest region of the subbasin which, in some places, has sunk by seven feet. 

Overpumping in the subbasin has caused damage to the Friant-Kern Canal which is currently undergoing repairs while still sinking further. 

If the board decides to put the subbasin into probation, it will remain there for at least a year. If problems with the local groundwater plan aren’t fixed by then, the board can implement its own interim plan which will likely be focused primarily on cutting groundwater pumping, said Natalie Stork, supervising engineer for the Water Board. 

“We hope that it doesn’t get to this,” said Stork. 

The Water Board will hold an in-person workshop Monday, April 8 at 5:30 p.m. in the Porterville Veterans Memorial Building, 1900 W Olive Ave, Porterville.

If the subbasin is put into probation, staff is recommending that domestic wells be excluded from the reporting and fees that will be required, said Stork. Staff also recommended that meters be required for all water users pumping more than 500 acre feet per year and for anyone pumping in the Friant-Kern Canal management area. 

The subbasin is divided into several different groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs). While some GSAs had hoped their individual plans would pass muster with the state and exclude them from state action, Water Board staff recommended the entire subbasin be put on probation.

Advocates and members of local organizations expressed support for the recommendations. 

“We’re seeing the generational impacts of this drinking water crisis,” said Tien Tran, senior policy advocate with the nonprofit Community Water Center. 

The effects that have hit the valley, such as when hundreds of wells went dry in east Porterville during the 2015 drought, are “unacceptable,” said Tran. That’s why Community Water Center expressed strong support for the recommendation to put the subbasin into probation, she said. If the Water Board steps in, it could make a difference, she added. 

The Tule subbasin is the second in line for a probationary hearing following the Tulare Lake subbasin, which is set to appear before the board on April 16. 

The Kaweah, Kern, Chowchilla and Delta-Mendota subbasins also had groundwater plans deemed inadequate. The Kaweah subbasin is slated to come before the board in November. Then the Kern has its hearing in January 2025. Chowchilla and Delta-Mendota will be heard later in 2025. 

Jesse Vad, SJV Water

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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