By Patty Poire, President, Kern County Farm Bureau
Hopefully you read my last month’s article about the receipt of the Department of Water Resources (DWR) review letter. It was received January 28th with the expected determination of “incomplete,” due to DWR requiring more information. Now comes the 180 days of working through the deficiencies indicated in the letter which means working with all the water districts’ boards and managers as well as the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies’ (GSA) boards and managers. At the Kern County Farm Bureau meetings, I have stated that my expectation was to obtain an incomplete and not an inadequate. This gives the Kern subbasin an opportunity to improve the Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSP) since those plans were developed two years ago under ridiculous time constraints and missing data. Of course, the 180 days is also a huge time constraint, but the knowledge of the basin from back then to today is tremendous. Not to say that there is more to learn, but the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) isn’t new and unexplored either. For at least four years, SGMA has been in full implementation status. This started from the establishment of the GSAs and the submittals of the GSPs to where we are now, working towards providing additional information to overcome the deficiencies.
You may ask what that means for the agricultural industry, and I would say that it doesn’t just impact the agricultural industry because, SGMA is about all water extractors (domestic, industry, government, water providers, agriculture). What it does mean is that agriculture is one of the largest users of water, with the environment close behind. Having a seat at the table to work through the deficiencies is vital. SGMA is about balancing the demand with the supply, and this basin is currently out of balance with approximately 324,326 acre-feet of water per year. Also, SGMA is about getting to balance in a 20-year horizon which I believe can be achieved, but to do that thinking outside of the box and looking at all the risks is where having a seat at the table matters.
The 180 days isn’t much time and then you may ask what happens if the Kern subbasin isn’t successful with providing or even agreeing on the remedies to comply? If that should occur, then it’s called “State Intervention”. State intervention is an unexplored area where I do not want the Kern subbasin to be the first to explore or even get to that position, so I will not go any further into this discussion at this time.
In saying all of this about SGMA and the DWR determination letter, there is some good news, or at least better news, that I would like to share. From the previous month’s article, I mentioned where the State came out early to announce their decision for a 0% allocation. Since then, the State came out due to the December and January storms and increased the allocation to 15%. Now I realize that is far from getting 100% allocation, which was actually very common to receive prior to 2000. But the State moved away from the 0% allocation and began storing water instead of sending all the flows out through the Delta. One might think that the overdraft of the Kern basin collates exactly to the shortage of water delivered by the State Water Project and the Federal Water Project, and you would be correct. If the Kern subbasin was to receive all the contracted water, the Kern subbasin would not be classified as critically over drafted under SGMA. To help understand this, please see the graph reflecting the amount of allocation since 1978.
Among water policies and rights, the Kern County Farm Bureau continues to monitor major factors that affect our farmers and agri-businesses. We recently held a successful meeting in January with Julie Henderson, the Director of the California Department of Pesticides. She spoke at the Spray Safe event and was so impressed by the amount of engagement, not just by attendees but also the vendors who participated. Within Kern County, our community is strong and determined to grow possibilities, and we appreciate everyone who gives of their time to engage and works for the success of the Kern subbasin.