Friant-Kern Canal
Friant-Kern Canal. (Photo: Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources)

By Jenny Holtermann, President, Kern County Farm Bureau

Summertime is a busy time in agriculture. As a farm mom, there is always an extra layer of busyness with farm chores, kids on summer break, and the constant juggling of life. I know many of you can relate. During the summer, many of us are prepping for harvest, getting equipment ready, and attempting to make schedules that harvest time will inevitably disrupt.

While we can’t always predict the seasons or what’s happening next on the farm, there is one thing we can count on — regulations. This year marks the 10-year anniversary of SGMA passing, and we marked the occasion in Kern County by submitting our second amended Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). At our last Tailgate Talk, we had an amazing SGMA overview presentation that helped members understand the next steps and how we got to this point.

Groundwater Sustainability Agencies were formed in 2017, and in 2018, SGMA planning was initiated for our subbasin. SGMA has a separate timeline for different subbasins based on the ranking assigned by the Department of Water Resources. Kern County, being a critically overdrafted basin, had to submit its first plan by 2020. At the time, there were five GSPssubmitted to DWR as a first attempt. In 2022, DWR issued an “incomplete” determination letter, and the subbasin submitted six revised GSPs. In 2023, DWR issued an “inadequate” determination letter, triggering our subbasin to go into State Water Resources Control Board intervention. The first sets of GSPs were missing the in-depth coordination that the state was looking for. The determination letters outlined the GSP’s inability to establish undesirable results consistent for the entire subbasin, expressed concerns with the subbasin’s chronic lowering of groundwater levels, and called out inconsistent sustainability criteria for land subsidence. The subbasin responded by making several changes focused on improving coordination. A new Subbasin Plan Manager and Point of Contact was hired to lead the efforts in coordination.

On May 28, our second amended GSP — which is truly a completely revised plan — was submitted to the SWRCB for review. If you aren’t familiar with the makeup of your water district’s plan, I strongly encourage you to attend a water district board meeting or walk into their office and request a copy or meeting to learn more. There were seven nearly identical GSPs submitted with added supplemental pages to explain the special conditions of the GSAs based on those versions submitted.

The current GSP had six months of deep coordination, with more than 146 meetings and a management structure everyone was able to agree on. Now, the GSP is adorned with a new look into minimum thresholds for groundwater levels, water quality, subsidence, and groundwater storage. Additionally, it includes a subbasin-wide well mitigation program that addresses dewatered wells and water quality. Water budgets for planning purposes were also updated and are now correlated to each GSA. We are asking the SWRCB staff to review the amended GSP over the next 90 days and use these plans as the basis for their probationary hearing recommendation. We anticipate a draft deficiency letter to be released in September, followed by a probationary hearing that will likely be set for January 2025.

It is a daunting timeline but we have come so far since the first plan submittal. The Farm Bureau is actively engaged in advocating for our members and helping to further educate them on the plan. There will always be speculation as to what the outcome will yield.

It took a bit of time, but the subbasin has set the right people in the right positions to do the right job —and now we wait.

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