Many areas struggling to set up groundwater agencies as deadline looms

Tim Hearden/Capital Press Pat Minturn, Shasta County's public works director, is on a Northern California Water Association committee that's working with the state in implementing new groundwater regulations. He said many areas still have not developed a viable local groundwater regulatory agency as they must do by the end of June.

REDDING, Calif. — With their deadline less than three months away, local governments in many critical California groundwater basins still haven’t settled on a local entity to implement the state’s new pumping regulations, a key water official says.

Counties, cities and water districts in many areas have submitted “a hodgepodge of overlapping claims” to be their region’s groundwater sustainability agency, said Pat Minturn, who is on the Northern California Water Association’s groundwater committee that’s working with state officials on solutions.

Other areas have thrown together joint-powers agreements that don’t identify such basic things as their voting structure for member governments or how costs would be shared, he told the Capital Press.

Without a viable local entities in place by a July 1 deadline, landowners’ well use in those areas will be regulated by the State Water Resources Control Board, which is empowered to intervene if local agencies are unable or unwilling to adopt groundwater management plans.

“In reality, I think they’re still going to try and work with these folks,” said Minturn. “Many of these agencies have just made agreements to agree, just to be in compliance.”

There are 515 groundwater basins and sub-basins. In all, the state has received 172 notices from potential GSA’s covering 277 different sub-basins or other areas, as some agencies submitted more than one notice, said Mark Nordberg, the Department of Water Resources’ groundwater project manager.

Of the proposals the DWR has received, Nordberg estimates that about half would be viable without making any changes. Many of the others still must resolve significant overlaps, he said.

For instance, in one eastern San Joaquin County sub-basin, 16 different agencies submitted GSA proposals and they all overlap in some form, he said.

But Nordberg is confident that most if not all of the overlapping and other shortcomings will be resolved by the July 1 deadline. He notes that 13 entities have withdrawn proposals with the intent of submitting new ones that follow all the rules, and other governments have already revised earlier proposals.

“The way it looks right now is not the way it’s going to look in about two months,” Nordberg said.

One area on the verge of sending in a proposal is Shasta County, where supervisors on April 18 voted to participate in a six-agency Enterprise Anderson Groundwater Sustainability Agency to govern a basin that feeds the Sacramento River from Redding to Cottonwood.

But Shasta County was unique in that officials waited until they had an agreement before contacting the state, Minturn said.

“In those areas where the need is the greatest, where agricultural demand is greater than (urban) demand … I don’t see any good examples,” Minturn said. “What I see is overlapping claims.”

The GSA’s are a key part of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act enacted in the fall of 2014.

State officials held a series of workshops last winter to answer questions from local residents and agencies about the legislation, and state-contracted mediators are helping counties, cities and water districts resolve issues with their plans in time for the deadline, Nordberg said.

And Minturn said his association has tried to bring counties, cities and water districts together while providing input about the process to the state.

But political infighting has plagued the process in some areas from the beginning. At first, some counties throughout the Central Valley sought to be their areas’ groundwater agencies but received push-back from local water districts that didn’t want to be told what to do, Minturn has said.

One problem is that groundwater basins don’t align with political boundaries. So what may end up happening is that multiple groundwater agencies will be formed in a given basin and they’ll come up with one plan.

In a few cases, the state water board may find it easier politically to do such unpopular tasks as metering or blocking use of wells, Minturn said.

But Nordberg doesn’t believe there will be many cases in which the water board will have to step in.

“I would like to think not very many” areas will need the state to intervene, he said. “Right now everyone who has overlap is working very hard to resolve the overlap, and those that don’t have GSA’s submitted have our support services.”

Recommended for you