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City forced into regional agency to regulate groundwater

POSTED December 7, 2016 9:53 a.m.
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Members of the Ceres City Council voted last week to have the city become a member of a new agency as dictated by the state to regulate and oversee extraction of groundwater.

The council appointed Mayor Chris Vierra to the West Turlock Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Agency Joint Powers Authority (JPA) and appointed Ken Lane as the alternate.

The purpose of the Joint Powers Agreement is to form the West Turlock Subbasin GSA under SGMA, which was signed into law in September 2014 and went into effect the following January.

Jeremy Damas, Public Works Director for the city of Ceres, said the act is to coordinate groundwater activities within each basin.

A total of 14 agencies will belong to the JPA, including Turlock Irrigation District. There are 10 members of the West Turlock Subbasin GSA and four associate members. A member is an agency that can appoint a board member and will have a vote. Member agencies must pay an annual fee of $10,000 over the next five years and they have the obligation to fund its proportionate share of the general budget, which is based on acreage and pumping volume.
Both the city of Turlock and TID are the two largest members of the West Turlock Subbasin GSA, and as such make up over 80 percent of the subbasin's proportional funding. An associate member agency must pay a $2,000 annual fee and can participate at the technical level, meet with staff and work on GSPs, but they do not have an appointed board member and they do not have a vote.

"The expectation is that there should be three to four meetings per year," said Damas.

California has 117 groundwater basins, said Damas, and deemed them critically overdrafted. The West Turlock Subbasin must coordinate with a partner in the Eastside Irrigation District which is creating its own agency. The two must develop a plan by 2020 to deal with groundwater.

"And it's a fair statement to say that if all of us can't get along and join this that the state will come in and say that ‘Big Brother' can do a better job than we can and therefore dictate what's going on?" asked Vierra. Damas replied, "if we don't have a plan in place by July 1, big brother steps in and says ‘this is what you're going to do.'"

On Nov. 29 the TID took action to form the JPA.
"This is the first step and it's a major milestone," said TID Assistant General Manager of Water Resources Tou Her.

He said the "intent of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was to empower local agencies to develop management plans to ensure the long-term sustainability of groundwater resources."

Under SGMA, local entities are required to form one or multiple GSAs by June 30, 2017 and to develop one or more groundwater sustainability plans within three to five years depending on the condition of their basins. Since the Turlock Subbasin is not considered to be critically overdraft, it has a five-year period from the time it forms a GSA to develop its plan, according to Her, who said that the Turlock Subbasin has until 2022 to develop its GSP.

"The Groundwater Sustainability Plan is going to be a very, very important document," said Her. "It's going to be the document that will set us forward as to how we're going to manage this area."

The 21 agencies within the Turlock Subbasin that have water or land use management authority agree to form two GSAs concurrently, a West Turlock Subbasin GSA and an East Turlock Subbasin GSA, in order to manage groundwater resources.

"The two GSAs are working concurrently, but on separate tracks, to develop GSAs - and so TID is leading the efforts on the West Turlock Subbasin GSA and the Eastside Water District is leading the efforts on the East Turlock Subbasin GSA," said Her.

Although there are two GSAs, Her said that as part of the Turlock Groundwater Basin Association, TID and other local agencies voted in September 2015 to develop a single GSP for the entire Turlock Subbasin.

"We believe that developing one GSP is in the best interest of the subbasin and therefore all the agencies signed an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] to commit to developing one GSA," said Her.

"There are 18 entities that are eligible, but four smaller entities have decided not to participate," said Her. "They are basically saying we do not have enough funding to participate, but we will come to public meetings and we will be under the jurisdiction of the agency."

The TID Board of Directors voted 4-1 to approve the JPA Tuesday, with Director Rob Santos dissenting.

"I believe that TID should be leading the JPA. Water always has been a conjunctive use resource. Surface water is married to groundwater," said Santos. "We already have a governing board dealing with surface water issues and we have a complete staff that has the skills and knowledge in groundwater management.

"Involving 10 to 14 other agencies to make decisions on groundwater will only slow the problem solving decision process. The TID board represents everyone in the TID boundaries. And I believe that includes groundwater as well as the surface water," continued Santos.

Her said that the 14 members included in the West Turlock Subbasin GSA are expected to begin meeting in January and the GSA is expected to be deemed "exclusive" by the Department of Water Resources in June.

 

 

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