Tulare County Groundwater Sustainability Plans deemed inadequate – aquifer risks being taken over by the state

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today, March 2, announced their decision on the groundwater sustainability plans for 12 critically overdrafted groundwater basins in Central California.

Of the 12 basins, DWR declared that six did not submit plans that demonstrate they will reach sustainability by 2040.

Two of those basins are in Tulare County and cover a majority of its aquifer. The only basin recommended for approval was Kings Basin which covers mostly Fresno County and only a small part of Tulare County.

If Tulare County GSAs can’t come up with a workable plan to achieve sustainability, the management of Tulare County’s ground water might be taken over by the state.

The two sub-basins that did not win DWR approval are the Kaweah sub-basin and the Tule sub-basin.

The Tule sub-basin is made up of six Groundwater Sustainable Agencies (GSA): Alpaugh GSA, Delano-Earlimart Irrigation District GSA, Eastern Tule GSA JPA, Lower Tule River Irrigation District GSA, Pixley Irrigation District GSA and the Tri-County Water Authority GSA.

The Kaweah sub-basin is comprised of East Kaweah GSA, Greater Kaweah GSA, and the Mid-Kaweah GSA.

The other four sub-basins that are in danger of being taken over by the state are Chowchilla Sub-basin in Madera and Merced counties, Delta-Mendota Sub-basin in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Fresno, Madera, and San Benito counties, and Tulare Lake Sub-basin in Kings County, Kern Sub-basin in Kern County.

DWR recommended approval for the following six basins considered severely overdrafted. Cuyama Basin in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Kern counties, Paso Robles Sub-basin in San Luis Obispo County, Eastern San Joaquin Sub-basin in San Joaquin County, Merced Sub-basin in Merced County, Westside Sub-basin in Fresno and Kings counties, Kings Sub-basin in Fresno and Tulare County.

The GSAs whose plans are recommended for approval conducted critical analysis of groundwater levels, water quality and inter-connected surface waters to develop and refine sustainable groundwater management criteria. While additional analytical work is needed during implementation, DWR deemed the framework for management sufficient under the law.

The basins deemed inadequate by DWR did not appropriately address deficiencies in how GSAs structured their sustainable management criteria. The management criteria provide an operating range for how groundwater levels prevent undesirable effects such as overdraft, land subsidence and groundwater levels that may impact drinking water wells, within 20 years. These GSAs did not analyze and justify continued groundwater level declines and land subsidence. Further, the plans lacked a clear understanding of how the management criteria may cause undesired effects on groundwater users in the basins or critical infrastructure.

In January 2022, after technical evaluation, DWR found the plans in these 12 critically overdrafted basins to be incomplete, identifying significant deficiencies that precluded approval. The GSAs had 180 days to correct the deficiencies and revise and resubmit their plans to DWR for re-evaluation, consistent with the regulations.

DWR supports local agencies by providing planning, technical and financial assistance to help GSAs and local communities in this long-term effort to sustainably manage their groundwater basins. The critically overdrafted basins each received $7.6 million in Sustainable Groundwater Management grant funding to help them implement their plans. Complementary funding programs like DWR’s LandFlex program, state drought assistance programs, and the California Department of Conservation’s Multibenefit Land Repurposing program are helping the most critically overdrafted areas of the state reduce their dependence on groundwater and fast-track progress in reaching local sustainability goals.

Out of a total of 94 groundwater basins required to submit plans under SGMA, DWR has provided determinations for 24 basins and is currently reviewing an additional 61 plans from 59 of the state’s high- and medium- priority basins that were submitted to DWR in January 2022. DWR anticipates issuing determinations for the remaining basins throughout 2023.

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