East Kaweah sets hearing for GSP acceptance

East Kaweah GSA presents their sustainability plan to Lindsay City Council, public hearing date is Dec. 16

By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

LINDSAY – California is just three short months away from a new era of groundwater regulation, and the public is being invited to weigh in.

Last week the Lindsay City Council got their detailed report of what is in store for their groundwater future. Lindmore Irrigation District general manager and East Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency (East Kaweah) executive director Mike Hagman provided an in-depth presentation over their plans to reach ground water sustainability by 2040, outlined in the East Kaweah’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).

The East Kaweah board set a hearing date for Dec. 16 at their Sept. 16 board meeting. The public is encouraged to comment on the draft GSP between now and the hearing date. Hagman noted that they intend to adopt the GSP by Jan. 17, 2020 and send their GSP, along with the Mid and Greater Kaweah’s GSP to the state by Jan. 31.

When they will be accepted is still a mystery according to consulting engineer Matt Klinchuch.

“Nobody has done these plans before, anywhere in the state…for this magnitude, and then coordinating among our neighbors has been a pretty substantial effort,” Klinchuch said.

The East Kaweah is made up of the Exeter Irrigation District, Ivanhoe Irrigation District, Stone Corral Irrigation District, Lindmore Irrigation District, Lindsay-Strathmore Irrigation District, Tulare County and the City of Lindsay. The GSA’s name gives away the portion of the Kaweah subbasin it manages.

Based on the most detailed data they have available, the East Kaweah has a supply of 125,000 acre feet per year of ground water available for use without threatening overdraft. However, Hagman notes that the East Kaweah has overdrafted their portion of the basin by 28,000 acre feet on average, per year.

As a whole the entire basin is overdrafted by approximately 78,000 acre feet per year. The Greater Kaweah, which covers the largest swaths of the subbasin account for 42,675 of those acre feet of groundwater overdraft. Their GSP is also available on their web site, graterkaweahgsa.org.

Under SiGMA, the goal is to find ways to avoid overdraft by 2040. The East Kaweah’s GSP outlines what they want to avoid undesirable results. Their objectives are rather clear, at least in the undesirable results category. In all they are looking at groundwater elevation, groundwater storage, surface water and groundwater connections, groundwater quality and land subsidence.

Striking at the heart of SiGMA is elevation. Like the other two GSAs, the East Kaweah is attempting to avoid unreasonable lowering of groundwater levels resulting in significant impacts to supply. They want to avoid unreasonable reduction in groundwater storage, the depletion of interconnected surface water and groundwater where present, undue degradation of water quality from baseline conditions to significantly impact users of groundwater and the unreasonable impacts to critical infrastructure.

Subsidence has particularly hurt the Friant Kern Canal in the Tule subbasin, making it all but impossible to push water past Porterville. While efforts to circumvent the problem are on the rise, instant relief is not an option, forcing some surface water customers to depend entirely on groundwater.

According to Hagman’s presentation, they set their minimum threshold for elevation, storage and surface water and groundwater connection on a baseline compiled by a 20 year average between 1997 and 2017.

In order to avoid undesirable results, the East Kaweah is developing projects to augment or better use the surface water supply to overcome groundwater overdraft. However, if project development alone is unable to prevent their outlined undesirable results then management actions or programs will need to be employed, according to the East Kaweah draft GSP.

“The EKGSA, when necessary, will consider management actions that focus on several factors including, but not limited to, reducing water demand and associated reduction of groundwater pumping, increasing data collection, education and outreach, regulatory policies, incentive-based programs, and enforcement actions,” the GSP states.

Mayor Pam Kimball pointed out the potential for monitoring individual wells if the East Kaweah needs to limit use.

“Potentially we might have to tell everyone in our GSA that is on a well, how much they can pump and then monitor it,” Kimball asked.

Hagman noted that if a property has live stock or cows then the East Kaweah is likely going to observe their water use. Councilwoman Yolanda Flores asked how they would regulate well owners who had just drilled deeper wells during the drought, subsequently running their other neighbors dry.

Hagman replied, stating that the County ultimately regulates well depth, but the East Kaweah regulates how much water an owner can pump out of the ground. He added that at some point it does not profit the owner to dig a deeper well for water they won’t be able to pump anyways.

Aside from strict rules on how much water land owners can pull out of the ground, the East Kaweah has several recharge projects they think can be implemented. According to the GSP the initial plans indicate a savings of 18,240 acre feet per year.

Hagman noted in his presentation that East Kaweah hopes to save 1,800 acre feet, meeting 6% of their sustainability plan by the end of 2020. By 2025 East Kaweah plans to have met 47% of their goal , saving 9,240 acre feet. By 2035, East Kaweah plans to actually return 240 acre feet of water into the ground, every year through 2040.

They are one of three GSAs that will regulate groundwater in the subbasin, and were created out of the State’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SiGMA). An accumulation of three different bills signed into law in 2014, SiGMA aims to create more sustainable groundwater levels across California. The law allows local control over how to do that. In the five years since SiGMA was passed, it has been a mad dash to identify what sustainable means.

Also covering the subbasin is the Mid Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency (Mid Kaweah) is made up of Visalia, Tulare and Tulare Irrigation District as their only members. They presented their Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) to Visalia last month, noting the ins and outs of their plans.

The Greater Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency’s (Greater Kaweah) boundaries take over the remaining portions of the subbasin with Tulare County, Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District, Kings County Water District, Lakeside Irrigation District, Cities of Farmersville, Exeter and Woodlake as their member agencies.

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