Panel offers farmers a survival kit for new groundwater rules

Panel of experts hopes to answer questions farmers have about the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)


EXETER – California’s groundbreaking legislation regulating the water flowing beneath the ground beneath our feet is quite literally uncharted territory for farmers. But come next January, farmers will play a major role in how groundwater levels are reported, replenished and retained. 

In order to prepare farmers for the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), Don Wright, of Clovis-based Water Wrights, an online newsletter about agriculture water regulation, will present a “SGMA Survival Took Kit” forum from 3 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 30 at the Exeter Memorial Building, 324 N. Kaweah Ave. in Exeter. 

Often referred to as “sigma,” the 2014 law set a deadline of Jan. 31, 2020 for local agencies to implement plans to become water neutral, meaning they put as much water back into the ground as they take out. The state requires that every area deemed an overdraft basin, such as the entire San Joaquin Valley, must be operating under a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) approved by the Department of Water Resources by next year. The plans are being drafted by Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) across the state. These agencies are a collection of city councilmembers, county supervisors, water experts, and farmers whose job is to figure out a way for the land within their boundaries to be water neutral in the next 20 years.

Wright’s web site,, will present the forum along with the Tulare County Farm Bureau and the Water, Energy and Technology (WET) Center at Fresno State.

“This is not a GSA meeting or a DWR or State or Regional Board meeting; there will be some DWR folks to help with the interpretation of the law but not to tell us what to do,” Don Wright told California Ag Today. “And of course GSAs will be a topic but the message about them will be – they are our neighbors doing some heavy lifting. They are not the enemy and are in need of our support and input.”

The free workshop will cover the following topics: Getting your real estate in order pre-SGMA; Legalities and preparing for SGMA to take effect; Building more Infrastructure for Water in the San Joaquin Valley. Panelists include ag appraiser Matt Pennebaker, hydrogeologist Chris Johnson, Fresno State’s Tommy Esqueda, California Milk Producer Council’s Geoff Vanden Huevel, civil engineer Kiel Taylor, and water law attorney Valerie Kincaid.

Gar Tootelian will be providing BBQ beef sandwiches, the American Pistachio Growers Association will provide pistachios, Wright’s 81-year old mother baked 300 homemade cookies, and the Tulare Farm Bureau is bringing bottled water.

This meeting is about what farmers can do to prepare for SGMA before it’s implemented next year. Are wells and irrigation systems operating optimally? Is monitoring and record keeping up to speed? Do they have their legal and real estate ducks in a row? While there are experts speaking on these subjects, growers are encouraged to speak as well.

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