farm irrigation
(Photo by Deyan Georgiev /

By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

Following the State Water Board’s decision to place the Tulare Lake Subbasin on probation — and upcoming probationary hearings for five critically overdrafted basins in the Central Valley — local groundwater management has become increasingly critical.

Coming up on nearly a decade since the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was signed into law by former Governor Jerry Brown, the future of the Central Valley’s water lay in the coalition of the willing. The face of that future is the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint.

The Water Blueprint — a volunteer-based coalition of community leaders, businesses, water agencies, local governments, and agricultural representatives — is leading the charge to advance water solutions for the region.

According to Geoffrey Vanden Heuvel, board vice chair of the Blueprint, when SGMA was instituted and required the organization of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to produce sustainability plans, it became clear that individual farmers could not address the water shortage alone.

“As this was being rolled out, folks were beginning to realize that there just isn’t enough water to support all the agriculture that we built here in a way that will comply with the sustainability requirements that will ultimately be enforced by 2040,” Heuvel said. “It became quite clear that we either were going to just let this happen to us or we needed to get organized because this was a bigger problem than any one individual farmer could solve.”

The Blueprint became an entity to represent not just farmers, but the whole community, Heuvel explained. Driven by the necessity to address water sustainability collectively, the Blueprint began as a coalition of the willing and eventually received federal support.

“The whole idea behind the Blueprint is, you know, first identify the impacts of doing nothing and then do everything we can to try to figure out what the Blueprint is for improving on the worst-case scenario,” Heuvel said.

One primary goal of the coalition is the Unified Water Plan — a comprehensive plan that includes various water projects proposed by GSAs and supported by funding from the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. The comprehensive plan falls in line with the Blueprint’s philosophy that collaboration is crucial and the diversity and scale of agriculture in the valley necessitates a unified approach to water management.

“We’re either going to work together or we’re not going to be successful,” Heuvel said.

The Unified Water Plan expects its final report by the end of 2025, but drafts will be made available for public comment and review.


The challenges faced by the Tulare Lake Subbasin further underscore the complexities of groundwater management and the necessity to collaborate. Five GSAs operate within the subbasin, with distinct challenges and stakeholders pulling at the GSP.

Tensions within the subbasin were illustrated by the severe backlash Kings County Water District and the Mid-Kings River GSA faced for not approving the revised GSP. According to Aaron Fukuda, general manager of the Tulare Irrigation District, interim general manager of the Mid-Kaweah GSA, and technical committee member for the Blueprint, the probation process has three possible outcomes: build momentum, maintain momentum, or kill momentum.

“I think what we’re seeing in the Tulare Subbasin is it killed the momentum,” Fukuda said.

For its part, the MKGSA is ahead of schedule for its probationary hearing on November 5. Fukuda explained that significant progress on the second amended GSP has been made, and three technical teams are focused on addressing key deficiencies identified by the Department of Water Resources.

The Kaweah Subbasin faced two primary issues in its initial GSP — refining the sustainable management criteria, including groundwater levels and subsidence, and preparing for potential interconnected surface water impacts. Led by a team of hydrogeologists, the past year has seen intensive technical work and frequent meetings.

“Instead of just tweaking this and tweaking that… sometimes in life, you hit the reset button, go back to step one, reevaluate everything, and move forward,” Fukuda said.

Fukuda explained that there’s no textbook to groundwater just as there’s no textbook to farming.

“You can’t open a textbook and then go farm,” Fukuda said. “You’ve got to look at your parameters. You’ve got to make adjustments.”

As revisions near completion, the Kaweah Subbasin GSAs are preparing to present the amended GSP for public review. Upcoming workshops on June 24 and June 27 will be crucial for explaining the revised GSP to the State Board members and the public, highlighting the extensive work done and the sustainability projects in place.

Fukuda remains hopeful for a positive result at the Kaweah Subbasin hearing on November 5 and explained that the GSAs have remained committed to remedying the GSP and working toward sustainability.

“We’ve got the momentum now,” Fukuda said. “We’ve got a vision and a target out there where we’re aiming and we’re going.”

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