As the newly elected chair of the West Turlock Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Agency, Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors president Joe Alamo said that although the agency's first meeting was mostly procedural, it was an important milestone for the region nonetheless.
"The public agencies that make up the GSA have put in a lot of work to get us here since the law was passed in 2014. There's still public hearings and paperwork to submit to the State, but the fact that urban and ag water providers large and small have joined together to agree to chart a groundwater sustainability path for the betterment of the region is historic," said Alamo. "I look forward to helping guide our policy discussions on the important topic of groundwater sustainability."
Under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, all high and medium priority groundwater basins are required to form one or multiple GSAs by June 30 and to develop one or more groundwater sustainability plans within three to five years, depending on the condition of their basins.
The public agencies within the Turlock Groundwater Subbasin agreed to form two GSAs - one for the East Turlock Subbasin and one for the West Turlock Subbasin - to manage groundwater resources for the basin by forming a single basin-wide plan within five years.
There are 10 members of the West Turlock Subbasin GSA and three associate members. 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.
Alamo said that looking long-term, the biggest challenge that the West Turlock Subbasin GSA will face is the "development of a comprehensive groundwater sustainability plan for the Turlock Subbasin" by 2022.
"The plan will ultimately consist of a mix of policies, programs and projects that can help subbasin groundwater levels," said Alamo. "The challenge over the next four to five years will be figuring out which policies, programs and projects to conduct, and in what order, and how to finance them locally, all while coordinating with the pending East Turlock Subbasin GSA."
Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth, who was elected as vice-chair of the West Turlock Subbasin GSA, regarded the meeting as nothing less than "historic."
"Water sustainability has been a focus of my two years as mayor and, while we've made significant strides with Ceres and TID to establish the surface water project for reliable drinking water in Turlock, I'm glad to partner with nine other entities to address our groundwater needs throughout the subbasin," said Soiseth. "The formation of the GSA should demonstrate to the State that we are serious about addressing our water needs with comprehensive, sustainable solutions."
Soiseth said that he hopes to continue Stanislaus County's "legacy of smart and sustainable groundwater use" with the West Turlock Subbasin GSA and ultimately the Turlock Subbasin GSP.
"When you take a look at other groundwater basins throughout the Central Valley, Stanislaus County's groundwater is in notably better shape," said Soiseth. "This doesn't happen by accident, but is a result from decades of successful irrigation strategy employed by farmers and an aggressive conservation strategy by residents."
In order to successfully be elected as a GSA with the Department of Water Resources and comply with SGMA, the West Turlock Subbasin GSA must properly notice the public of its intent to become a GSA. To accomplish this, members of the West Turlock Subbasin GSA set two public hearing dates for March 1 and March 2.
"I felt it was important to hold two public hearings regarding the formation of the GSA, one in Stanislaus and one in Merced County," said Soiseth. "While a majority of the entities and population resides in Stanislaus County, I want Hilmar, Delhi and Merced County to also feel like valued partners in this historic partnership to address groundwater issues."
Members also approved the initial 2017 budget, which includes the required membership annual fees for all members ($10,000) and associate members ($2,000). The initial budget of $106,000 is dependent on employment and reimbursement decisions of the agency that will to be made. The budget may be amended by the Board at future meetings.
Following Thursday's meeting, Alamo said members are set to meet quarterly as a Board, and have a technical committee meet even more regularly, to keep the Turlock subbasin in compliance with the law.