The Department of Water Resources (DWR) on Thursday issued decisions on a dozen groundwater sustainability plans for critically overdrafted basins.
DWR approved San Luis Obispo’s plan for the Paso Robles subbasin. The underlying aquifer has been the center of contention between farmers and water managers for more than a decade, after the county passed strict pumping rules. Also approved was a plan for the Westlands Water District.
“The value of DWR’s support—both technical and financial—cannot be understated," said Jose Gutierrez, the district’s interim general manager. "We look forward to a continued partnership with DWR as we roll up our sleeves and implement the plan."
DWR deemed six other GSPs inadequate, sending them to the State Water Resources Control Board, which serves as the regulatory backstop for groundwater management. DWR reasoned the local agencies did not justify continued groundwater declines and land subsidence. The plans also did not clearly disclose the undesired effects on other water users or critical infrastructure.
The board may designate the plans as in probation, triggering a hearing and potential actions such as taking over control of the basins and developing more aggressive plans. Board members have struggled to clarify the role of the board if it ever came to probationary actions and the decisions ahead will be the first major test in implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
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Yet California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson was optimistic the board process will allow more opportunity for agencies to identify problems, regain control of their basins and avoid probationary status.
While environmental justice groups have called for accelerating SGMA’s timeline, Johansson cautioned that “it was never going to be easy to transition on a timeline of just 20 years to eliminate an estimated 2.5 million acre-feet of overdraft a year in our most impacted areas.”
He stressed that California consider solutions that protect both aquifers and food production.