Groundwater in Tulare County, especially in Porterville, has been a hot topic of discussion for quite sometime. As groundwater levels have begun to subside, a viable and woking plan to maintain the groundwater has been state mandated, and the implementation of this plan is set to be put in action by January 31, 2020. But what exactly is the plan, and who is at stake? 

The Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency (ETGSA) has partnered with other agencies, including the Community Water Center, to devise a draft of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP), and on Wednesday night the two agencies held a community workshop at Porterville College to engage the community in the GSP and explain exactly what it is.

Rogelio Caudillo, the Interim Executive Director for the ETGSA, opened the workshop by introducing himself to the audience of roughly 15 people. He then wasted no time jumping straight into explaining the groundwater crisis, the GSP and the initiation of its implementation.

Caudillo explained 90 percent of  Central Valley residents rely on groundwater for at least part of their drinking supply. This can include, but isn’t limited to, water at home, work and schools. He then stated 100 percent of unincorporated communities are totally reliant on groundwater. Overuse of groundwater has caused land subsidence, which has damaged major infrastructure, he said.

Caudillo spoke a little bit about groundwater management history. He stated groundwater management in California has been historically piecemeal and voluntary, and the lack of effective groundwater management has lead to various undesirable impacts, many of which were sped up by the drought from 2012-2016. Some of the devastating impacts include declining groundwater levels, decline of groundwater storage, dry wells and well failures, subsidence and degradation of water quality.

Groundwater levels have declined by 9 feet across the Central Valley between the spring of 2005 and the spring of 2010, according to Caudillo’s information. This is equivalent to a loss of 120 million acre-feet of groundwater. There’s approximately 2,600 community water systems and 20 percent of those active community waters systems are contaminated by at least one principal contaminant that exceeds a maximum contaminant level, said Caudillo.

Subsidence in the Central Valley, specifically in the mid-sections of critical conveyance infrastructure like the Friant-Kern Canal, have and continue to suffer from land subsidence that impairs flow capacity to southern communities. Subsidence along the Friant-Kern Canal has decreased the capacity of the canal to less than 40 percent of the original design. To fix this issue, the estimated cost of the total project is roughly $400 million. This subsidence is threatening groundwater sustainability by minimizing communities ability to supply surface water in-lieu of groundwater, and altering the ability of aquifers to effectively receive water from recharge, said Caudillo.

Because of these issues, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, also known as SGMA, was signed into law on September 16, 2014. SGMA is a package of three bills that provide a framework for the sustainable management of groundwater resources in California in order to avoid the six identified “significant and unreasonable” undesirable results. Caudillo identified those results as follows; lowering groundwater levels, reduction of storage, seawater intrusion, degraded quality, land subsidence and surface water depletion. 

Caudillo shared a quote from Governor Jerry Brown when he said, “A central feature of these bills (SGMA) is the recognition that groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally,” which allowed him to transition into explaining what a groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) was. A GSA is a local agency charged with implementing SGMA through the creation, adoption and implementation of a GSP. A GSP, for definition, is a plan implemented by a GSA that describes among other things, how the GSA will meet the goal of sustainability for a water basin. By January 31, 2020 each agency will need to implement the GSPs in order to achieve sustainability by 2040. This will affect everyone who depends on the availability of adequate water quantities and good water quality. This covers a range of needs including cooking, cleaning, drinking, washing, flushing, gardening and agriculture.

Some of the local groundwater that effects Porterville comes from the Lower Tule Subbasin. This subbasin is roughly 475,000 acres in area and supplies 95 percent of community water, as well as 52 percent of agricultural water. 

The local ETGSA has drafted a GSP for the area that’s currently in the public comment period. The agency will submit its draft GSP by January 31, 2020 for governmental review. There are three possible outcomes for the draft. The first possibility is the draft GSA will come back as “adequate”, the second is “incomplete” and the third is “inadequate.” If it’s determined the GSP is adequate, that means the plan meets the sustainability goals for the next 20 years. Incomplete will give the ETGSA time to resubmit the plan with changes to meet the sustainability goals, and inadequate would require a total reworking of the draft GSP. 

The ETGSA is currently accepting public comment in written form. To access the draft GSP visit www.easterntulegsa.com/gsp, or visit the ETGSA office and pick up a flash drive with the document at 881 W. Morton Avenue, Suite D. Comments are accepted via the website or by email at info@easterntulegsa.com. Written comments can also be submitted to the office on Morton Avenue. There will also be one final public hearing on December 16 at the Porterville City Hall at 2 p.m., where community members can provide an oral comment.

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