Comments were due this month, but the deadline has been pushed to June
TULARE COUNTY – As Groundwater Sustainability Agencies continue implementing their plans, the state has extended the deadline for the second round of public comments, citing disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eric Osterling, the general manager of the Greater Kaweah GSA, said that despite the pandemic, GSAs are continuing to work and implement their Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSP).
We can’t stop. It seems like so much has stopped, but we don’t have the luxury to stop,” Osterling said. “We have deadlines that we still have to meet and we have to show what work we’ve put in during our annual report.”
The deadline for the second public comment period was extended from April 15 to June 3 for all of the Kaweah GSAs, but aside from a comment from the Department of Fish and Wildlife that was sent to all GSAs, they have not received any new ones. Osterling said he’d be surprised if they don’t get anymore comments before the next deadline.
Groundwater agencies had to submit plans to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Even though the state has two years to review and approve the GSA’s plans, the agencies have to begin implementing them now.
“Right now we are looking at the first five years of our plans and figuring out our priorities,” Osterling said. “We’ve got to get going on this, the longer we put off implementing our plans, the greater the burden it will be in later years.”
One of the most pressing tasks Greater Kaweah is working on is to put together a Prop. 218 assessment election so that the agency can get more funding for implementation, Osterling said. A Prop. 218 is a tax based on property assessments that agencies like a GSA can use for funds. Property owners vote in these elections, and Prop. 218 is tacked on to property taxes if they pass.
Osterling said his GSA is also working on figuring out how many wells are within the subbasin and whether or not they’re active and how much they pump.
“That’s a really basic thing to do, and it’s appalling that the state hasn’t done that yet,” he said.
The GSA also wants to do a metering study to figure out how to check water levels in wells throughout the subbasin, Osterling said.
“We need to determine how to meter, whether we have an army of people who go out and check meters, use cellular or satellite technology,” Osterling said. “We want to consider all of these options and weigh the pros and cons.”
Osterling also said the GSA needs to improve on the data they have on groundwater supplies and address the gaps in the data. The GSA needs to better understand the boundaries and the differences between sections of the subbasin.
The GSA is trying to be proactive and ready for the comments that will come back from the state on our plan, Osterling said.
“We took every single comment and responded to every single comment and made changes to the plan as needed,” Osterling said. “We’ve gone through the process so we won’t be making more changes at this time unless the state says otherwise.”
There are also many issues with SGMA that need to be addressed by the state legislature, Osterling said.
“The legislature is getting busy on some clean up goals on SGMA,” Osterling said. “They’ve come to the realization that it’s hard to get it right on the first go and the politicians and some of the leaders in water management who crafted this have now learned that out in the field, parts of implementation doesn’t work and we need to fix that.”
One thing Osterling would like to see is for the legislature to empower GSAs with more powers. State agencies and regional water boards have extraordinary powers that GSAs don’t have, Osterling said.
Another issue with the vague components of SGMA is that a lot of the powers given to GSAs are in conflict with existing water law, especially when it comes to allocating groundwater supplies. For example, the GSAs run the risk of allocating groundwater that a stakeholder might be able to claim if the water seeped from that stakeholders surface water claim.
Osterling said the Kaweah GSAs are also exploring water markets, or a system of buying and selling allocated groundwater.