East Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency’s board approves revised Groundwater Sustainability Plan after initial rejection from Department of Water Resources
EXETER – Facing the start of possibly a fourth-straight year of drought, one local water agency has resubmitted its plan to manage its dwindling supply of groundwater to the state.
The East Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency’s (East Kaweah) board of directors approved an updated Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) on July 25, two days before the deadline to submit the revised plan to the California Department of Water Resources. The state agency rejected the plan on Jan. 28 as “incomplete” and required East Kaweah to correct deficiencies in three areas before resubmitting by the July 27 deadline. The goal of the GSP is to bring groundwater levels into balance by the year 2040 under the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) of 2014.
If the state decides East Kaweah did not sufficiently address the deficiencies, the State Water Resource Control Board can take over and implement their own plan under a process called “state intervention” until local control is restored.
“East Kaweah, we’re the people that live here and we’re the ones that create the rules to try to prevent overdraft. That’s our job,” East Kaweah executive director Mike Hagman said. “We don’t want the state to come in because then it says we failed, that, as local people, we couldn’t manage it ourselves.”
It is still uncertain when the Department of Water Resources will provide feedback on the updated GSP. Hagman said he estimates East Kaweah will hear back from the state by November. Until then, East Kaweah program manager Chris Hunter said the agency is working on multiple projects that will help with water quality, groundwater recharge and multi-benefit land use projects. The East Kaweah board is also going to look at groundwater allocations within the next 30 to 60 days to decide how groundwater resources will be used for the upcoming water year which begins on Oct. 1.
Hunter also said all three GSAs in the Kaweah Subbasin – East Kaweah, Greater Kaweah and Mid-Kaweah – are working on a web platform called the Kaweah Water Dashboard, a place where landowners can strategically respond to the SGMA by reporting parcel numbers and field data, monitoring their water usage and reporting the tools needed to manage water portfolios.
Each of the GSAs in the Kaweah River watershed submitted their own plans to the state but they were then evaluated together as a single plan for the entire subbasin. According to Hagman, the state responded to the first GSPs with an incomplete determination for three areas of interest in particular. The three areas were methods used by East Kaweah to define the minimum threshold of groundwater levels, subsidence and its impact on the GSAs coverage area and integrated surface water.
To correct these inconsistencies, Hagman said East Kaweah updated their 2020 GSP, rewrote specific sections and added correct appendices to the plan. While East Kaweah was not required to make modifications on the subsidence issue in the GSP, they answered state questions on the minimum threshold for water levels in the updated report. For the integrated surface water, East Kaweah developed a work plan that identified a data gap in the minimum threshold despite the lack of a Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem in the valley, which has ephemeral streams, meaning local rivers have inconsistent flows and are even dry for parts of the year.
Tulare County is primarily covered by two groundwater subbasins fed by the Kaweah and Tule rivers. The Kaweah Subbasin is made up of three GSAs: The Mid-Kaweah, comprised of the cities of Visalia and Tulare and the Tulare Irrigation District; the Greater Kaweah, comprised of County of Tulare as well as the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District, the Lakeside Irrigation Water District and the Kings County and St. Johns water districts; and the East Kaweah, comprised of the County of Tulare, City of Lindsay, and the Lindmore, Lindsay-Strathmore, Exeter, Ivanhoe and Stone Corral irrigation districts.
The Tule Subbasin is made up of six GSAs: Alpaugh, comprised of the Alpaugh Irrigation District, Alpaugh Community Services District and Atwell Island Water District; Delano-Earlimart, comprised of the Earlimart Public Utility District and Richgrove Community Services District; and the single-agency GSAs of Eastern Tule Irrigation District, Lower Tule River Irrigation District, Pixley Irrigation District, and Tri-County Water Authority.
The Kaweah and Tule GSAs were warned of the deficiencies on Dec. 9 in a letter saying they will receive a more detailed description of the deficiencies and accompanying corrective actions by Jan. 31. Those documents were released on Jan. 28 for the Kaweah and Tule along with six other subbasins in the Valley including the Eastern San Joaquin, Merced, Chowchilla, Kings, Tulare Lake, and Kern County.
Each of the GSAs were to address the deficiencies in their own plans and have their governing boards adopt the revised plans and resubmit their GSPs by July 27.
The Valley wasn’t alone in its struggles to gain state approval. Only eight GSAs statewide had their plans approved by the state. Thirty-four received similar letters from the state notifying GSAs their plans were incomplete.