Valley groundwater may get (small) slice of state’s $15 billion surplus

January 13, 2021
by Lois Henry
Lois Henry

Proposed budget

CLICK HERE for the budget summary.

Then scroll to page 154 in the document (159 of the PDF), for the description of new SGMA funding.

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The Governor’s proposal for how to spend California’s $15 billion surplus includes $60 million in direct grants to help replenish groundwater in the valley’s most depleted basins.

The measure specifies the money is to be used in “critically over-drafted basins,” which lie mostly in the San Joaquin Valley.

Water managers were pleasantly surprised, but not overwhelmed, by the amount.

“While any available funding is helpful, the need outweighs the available funding,” said Kassy Chauhan, Executive Officer of the North Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency in Fresno County.

GSAs were formed to comply with the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires over tapped basins bring their water tables into balance by 2040.

Getting there could mean retiring up to a million acres of productive farmland across the valley.

To avoid massive fallowing, GSAs are looking for more opportunities to recharge groundwater and reduce demand in other ways.

Each GSA was required to file a “sustainability plan” with the state last January that detailed how they would stop over tapping groundwater and bring basins into balance.

Those plans must be based on solid technical data and recharge projects have to be achievable, all of which costs money.

“GSAs will not be able to rely strictly on funding from the State or other programs to complete projects needed to reach sustainability goals,” Chauhan wrote in an email. “But will position ourselves to take advantage of any available funding, including the general fund money for SGMA implementation projects.”

Eric Averett, General Manager of Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District in Kern County, agreed.

“For smaller basins and disadvantaged communities, $60 million is probably very meaningful,” he said. “But for larger basins with more infrastructure, it’s a drop in the bucket. The problems basins are facing are substantial and require significant investment. Sixty million can help analyze those problems, but it’s hard to put solutions in place for $60 million.

If the proposed $60 million makes it through the gauntlet of political horse trading of the budget process to actual approval at the end of June, it will be added Proposition 68 grant funding under the auspices of the Department of Water Resources.

Proposition 68 was a $4 billion parks and water bond passed in 2018 with a portion of that money slated for “groundwater investment.”

According to DWR, the bond is for about $145 million for SGMA projects.

In March 2020, $47.5 million was awarded to 53 applicants through the Planning Grant Program. Approximately $46 million of that was from Proposition 68, while the remaining funding came from Proposition 1, according to a DWR spokeswoman.

There is $26 million available in the current solicitation of the Implementation Grant Program with the next solicitation opening in early 2022, offering about $75 million in additional grants for medium priority, high priority, and critically over drafted basins, she said.

There is a great deal of competition for that money, according to Chauhan.

“The projects that score the best are ones where you can demonstrate there is a direct benefit from the project to a disadvantaged or underrepresented community,” she explained.

Funding criteria for the proposed $60 million wasn’t specified in Gov. Newsom’s proposed budget other than that the new money would “help local agencies address known data gaps, plan and implement projects, and address deficiencies in initial groundwater sustainability plans.”

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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