A group of water districts clustered in the western end of Kern County who are currently members of the Kern Groundwater Authority (KGA) have announced that they will create their own groundwater sustainability agency.
The Westside District Water Authority, made up of the Belridge Water Storage District and the Lost Hills and Berrenda Mesa water districts, announced at the June 22 KGA meeting that it would form its own groundwater agency but would remain member of the greatest authority, according to general manager Mark Gilkey.
He said the districts share a number of similarities apart from the larger Kern sub-basin, including that they cover an area with very little usable native groundwater and should have formed their own GSA there years ago. This will bring the number of GSAs in the Kern sub-basin to 13, the largest being the KGA.
Gilkey also acknowledged that the move will give West Side districts “the ability to speak for ourselves,” if the overall sub-basin groundwater sustainability plan is found to be insufficient, putting the sub-basin on probation under of the law on the sustainable management of groundwater (SGMA). The law requires aquifers to be rebalanced by 2040.
“If we weren’t a GSA, we couldn’t do this,” he said.
Concerns over state probation were part of what prompted another group of water districts to part ways with KGA in May.
These districts not only formed their own groundwater agency, but they also withdrew entirely from the KGA and drafted their own groundwater plan. The new South of Kern River District Groundwater Sustainability Agency is comprised of Arvin-Edison Water Storage District, Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District, Tejon Water District -Castac and the community service district of Arvin.
This all comes at a critical time for the KGA and other GSAs in Kern, as the state’s deadline to submit a revamped groundwater sustainability plan looms on July 27. Each GSA in the Kern sub-basin can write its own plan, but they must be coordinated.
The state’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) found all the plans deficient in January and gave groundwater managers six months to resubmit the plans.
Sub-basins whose plans are deemed “inadequate” even after resubmission risk being put on probation. This would allow the state to impose strict pumping limits and heavy fines and fees.
One of the reasons Kern is so concerned about probationary status is because of “minimum thresholds.”
Minimum thresholds are a red groundwater line, the lowest level that a water table can drop without worsening water quality, damaging wells, or adding to chronic aquifer depletion.
In Kern, water districts located next to each other have minimum weirs at different levels, which DWR indicated in its initial assessment. In particular, the Semi-Tropical Water Storage District has set its minimum thresholds at an average of 189 feet below the current water table. This means its farmers could, theoretically, pump the aquifer much further before the district takes action.
In some cases, Semitropic levels are hundreds of feet below the minimum thresholds set by nearby water districts, making it impossible for those districts to maintain their water tables.
Semitropic general manager Jason Gianquinto told SJV Water in a previous story that the district manages groundwater on a “glide path,” which includes numerous programs to keep the district from reaching those lowest levels. .
It is unclear if this will be acceptable to DWR. Otherwise, it could put the entire Kern sub-basin on probation.
Under section 10735.2(e) of the water code, however, there may be a way out. The code states: “The (state water resources control) board shall exclude from probationary status any portion of a basin for which a groundwater sustainability agency demonstrates compliance with the sustainability objective.”
In the water world, this is known as the “good guy clause”, which means that if groundwater agencies can show that they have worked towards sustainability according to all the requirements of the SGMA, they might not be put on probation with the rest of a sub-basin.
And it may be the water lily sought by the various members of the KGA.
“That’s not the main reason,” Gilkey said. “But it’s a reason.”
Lois Henry is CEO and Editor-in-Chief of SJV Water, an independent nonprofit online news publication dedicated to covering water issues in the San Joaquin Valley. She can be reached at [email protected] The website is sjvwater.org.