Visalia City Council Votes on Groundwater Sustainability Agency

The City of Visalia is in the beginning stages of forming a Ground Water Sustainability Agency (GSA) with the City of Tulare and Tulare Irrigation District (TID). The first stage includes forming a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) to set the groundwork for the three entities to join together in a GSA.

The Visalia City council voted 4-1 at their July 22 meeting to form the JPA. Tulare City Council voted unanimously the next day to approve the JPA, while TID will be voting in August. According to Aaron Facuda, district engineer for TID, the irrigation districts intends to also approve of the JPA.

The Department of Water Resources will create a water sustainability plan for those entities that are not part of a GSA by June of 2017. Mayor Steve Nelsen applauded the city and other two entities for taking the “bull by the horns” and forming a JPA.

Not everyone at the Visalia City Council meeting was pleased with the vote. Strong opposition was voiced by Greg Milleman of Cal Water because the utility assumed they would also be part of the JPA. The company’s ultimate goal is to be a full GSA voting partner with Visalia, TID and Tulare.

Councilman Warren Gubler said he thought Cal Water’s request should at least be debated and was the lone vote against forming the JPA. Milleman said that Cal Water was caught off-guard by the city council’s decision to take it up for a vote without more discussion. He said that forming a JPA without them would not be in the spirit of cooperation the two entities have enjoyed during the last year.

There were problems from the beginning with Cal Water’s request. A utility with private investors such as Cal Water cannot form its own GSA, and it is questionable whether a private company can even be a member. Councilmember Greg Collins noted that the law infers that Cal Water could only be an advisory member, to which he would be open to considering down the line, but not now. But Cal Water was requesting that they be included in the JPA from the start and not be left out of the process. Milleman pointed out that Cal Water’s only job is dealing with ground water and that the Department of Water Resources would find it very odd that they were left out of the local GSA.

Milleman said that Visalia has a lot of other responsibilities, while Cal Water’s sole responsibility is providing water for Visalia residents. Mayor Nelsen countered that Cal Water is a statewide company whose main responsibility is to its stockholders and the many other cities it services. Cal Water is based in San Jose, and has customers throughout the state, but has a local office in Visalia.

Councilmember Bob Link reminded the audience that, while Visalia currently has a good working relationship with Cal Water, there have been times when the relationship has been terrible. He preferred to have members that live and reside in the area so that Visalia has a chance at controlling its own destiny concerning water.

California is the only state in the country that doesn’t regulate its groundwater, but that is about to change. In the Sustainable Ground Water Act passed last year, all cities, counties and water agencies must join a GSA. The GSA’s job is to regulate the groundwater at a regional level to reach sustainability. If a region or entity neglects to join a GSA before June of 2017, it risks the groundwater being taken over by the state. GSAs must have a science-based plan by 2020 demonstrating how they aim to attain sustainability. The plan has to be successfully implemented by 2040, meaning that the same amount of water being pumped out of the basin is being replaced.

The Central Valley has one of the most overdrafted underground water basins in the country. Not even several years of heavy rain would replenish the underground aquifer, according to NASA.


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