CA Department of Water Resources warns 27 GSAs over risks to well users

On December 9 the Department of Water Resources (DWR) took another important step toward protecting drinking water supplies by issuing correspondence letters to 27 Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), warning GSAs that these plans will be deemed incomplete when final assessments are issued at the end of January.

These GSAs span across the San Joaquin Valley, including Kern Groundwater Authority, Kern River, Buena Vista Water Storage District, Olcese Water District, Henry Miller Water District, Tri-County Water Authority, Lower Tule River Irrigation District, Alpaugh, Delano-Earlimart Irrigation District, Eastern Tule, Pixley Irrigation District, Tulare Lake, Mid Kaweah, Greater Kaweah, East Kaweah, James, Central Kings, North Fork Kings, South Kings, McMullin Area, Kings River East and North Kings.

DWR cited previously issued consultation letters that identified a lack of information and required justification of sustainability goals that would jeopardize the water supplies of thousands of Californians.

Over 30 million Californians rely on groundwater and over-pumping is impacting and will continue to impact drinking water needs. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) of 2014 establishes “significant groundwater-level declines” and “water-quality degradation” as two of the six undesirable results that GSPs must avoid.

The letters released by DWR cover basins deemed to be in a “state of critical overdraft” meaning that groundwater levels have been dropping for decades. In these basins, tens of thousands of residents reliant on shallow wells — domestic well owners and residents of small communities — are at risk of losing their water supply if overdraft continues at its current rates. SGMA was intended to reverse that continuing decline.

“More than 10,000 San Joaquin Valley residents lost their water supplies in the last drought, and nearly 1,000 wells have gone dry in 2021,” said Justine Massey, Policy Manager & Attorney of Community Water Center. “Domestic well owners and small communities should no longer be forced to bear the brunt of unsustainable groundwater management.”

“The Department of Water Resources has taken an important step towards protecting the water supplies of those who rely on groundwater in California,” says Jennifer Clary, California Director for Clean Water Action. “Although there is more work to be done to ensure GSPs are adequately addressing all user needs in their basin, this sends a clear signal that the status quo of overlooking domestic well users is no longer accepted.”

While applauding the prioritization of domestic water user needs in GSP review by DWR, advocates also emphasized that more needs to be done to ensure these plans are protective of the Human Right to Water.

“Now is the time for GSAs to prioritize protecting all groundwater users in their basin,” says Michael Claiborne, directing attorney for Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, “first by addressing the revisions directed by DWR, then by listening to what communities have been asking for since SGMA was established: immediate reductions in groundwater pumping to end overdraft and protect access to drinking water, and well mitigation plans to address water quantity and quality issues for those dependent on this critical resource.”

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