State delays Kaweah subbasin’s probationary hearing date

(Lisa McEwen/SJV Water)

State postpones the hearing from Nov. 1 to Jan. 7 of next year, delay gives local water agencies an extra two months to prepare for the probationary hearing

TULARE COUNTY – The state postponed the Kaweah groundwater region’s Nov. 5 probationary hearing until Jan. 7, 2025, according to an announcement at a “state of the subbasin” event held June 19 to answer questions about what probation would mean.

“We have some good news for you this afternoon and we could all use some good news,” Mark Larsen, manager of the Greater Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency, said at the meeting. “Our probationary hearing has been moved… That gives us an extra two months to prepare for our hearing.”

The California Water Resources Control Board pushed back the hearing because Nov. 5 is Election Day and “…having a board meeting on that day is not ideal for public participation,” wrote a Water Board spokesman in an email to SJV Water.

While the postponement was characterized by the state as a simple calendar snafu, it was greeted with much more enthusiasm by Kaweah water managers.

“Gargantuan,” was how Aaron Fukuda, interim general manager of the Mid-Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency, described the date change.

“It is a major, major lift to make that decision. And I think it is because we have our new GSP (groundwater sustainability plan) and a (domestic well) mitigation plan. They’re hearing us.”

Managers of the three groundwater agencies that cover the subbasin, which covers the northern part of Tulare County’s flatlands, have written a new plan they hope addresses the Water Board’s concerns about the need to protect domestic wells, stop chronic groundwater decline and work in a coordinated manner. Incorporated in that new plan is a $5.8 million-a-year contract with Visalia nonprofit Self-Help Enterprises to monitor and respond to residential well problems. It was the first domestic well agreement of its kind in the San Joaquin Valley.

State workshops set for June 24 and June 27 to explain why Water Board staff have recommended the Kaweah subbasin be put on probation are still, at this point, going to be held as scheduled.

Fukuda said Kaweah water managers’ goal during the next week will be to ask Water Board staff:  “Do not kill our momentum.”

Meanwhile, the new Kaweah groundwater plan has been approved by the East, Mid- and Greater Kaweah groundwater agencies and released to the public for a 30-day comment period in anticipation of submitting it to the state for review. Water Board staff have said previously it would take three months to review each new plan.

What the Kaweah’s new hearing date means for other groundwater subbasins is less clear.

The Kern subbasin had been tentatively scheduled to go before the Water Board sometime in January 2025. A “non-tentative” date will be announced later next month, according to the Water Board spokesman.

Kern water managers also submitted a new groundwater plan May 28.

The Delta-Mendota and Chowchilla subbasins are tentatively set to have probation hearings later in 2025.

Probation is the first step toward a possible pumping take over by the state.

If subbasins are put on probation, water managers have a year to work with Water Board staff to write an acceptable pumping plan. If they can’t get one together, the state will intervene, set its own pumping allotments, charge fees and issue fines.

Even under probation, growers must register their wells at $300 each, meter them, begin reporting extractions to the state and pay $20-per-acre-foot as an administrative charge to the Water Board. That’s on top of whatever fees they’re already paying to their respective groundwater agencies.

The Water Board already placed the Tulare Lake subbasin, nearly all of Kings County, on probation Apr. 16.

The Tule subbasin, which covers the southern part of Tulare County’s valley portion, is scheduled for a probation hearing before the Water Board on Sept. 17.

Water managers in that region, which includes a section of the Friant-Kern Canal that has sunk due to excessive groundwater pumping, are hoping to have a new plan done by July 1.

Sinking land, or subsidence was one of the main deficiencies noted by the state in finding the Tule subbasin’s plan inadequate. Another was that the state determined 776 wells – 568 that provide drinking water – could go dry under the Tule subbasin’s plan.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley, www.sjvwater.org.

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