Friant Water Authority and Arvin-Edison Water Storage District file suit against Eastern Tule GSA

The Friant Water Authority (FWA) and the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District (AEWSD) have filed a lawsuit against the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency (ETGSA) in Tulare County Superior Court for breach of a settlement agreement between the parties regarding land subsidence impacts to the Friant-Kern Canal and for intentional interference with AEWSD’s contract with the United States Bureau of Reclamation for water deliveries conveyed through the canal.

The water delivered by the Friant-Kern Canal, which is operated and maintained by FWA (and owned and managed by the Bureau of Reclamation), is vital to the economy and the public health and welfare of the San Joaquin Valley. Land subsidence caused by “overdraft” groundwater pumping has severely reduced the delivery capacity of the canal causing extensive impacts to, among others, water agencies such as AEWSD that rely on water deliveries from the canal.

The ETGSA is responsible under State law for sustainably managing the groundwater basin under its jurisdiction and to minimize land subsidence and subsidence-related impacts to critical infrastructure such as the Friant-Kern Canal.

FWA and AEWSD entered into a settlement agreement in 2021 with ETGSA under which it agreed to pay FWA for subsidence damage to the Friant-Kern Canal caused by the overpumping of groundwater by landowners within ETGSA’s boundaries. ETGSA also agreed to take steps to avoid or minimize further subsidence damage to the canal.

While ETGSA has taken some of the actions it agreed to under the settlement agreement, it has failed to live up to its core responsibilities – with serious consequences for the Friant-Kern Canal and all who rely on it. For more than a year, FWA and AEWSD have tried in good faith to resolve this dispute short of litigation. But ETGSA’s repeated refusals to follow through on its commitments left FWA and AEWSD with no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit.

In their complaint, FWA and AEWSD allege that ETGSA has, among other things, failed to:

  • Establish and maintain required penalties for unsustainable overdraft groundwater pumping;
  • Timely collect and remit penalty proceeds to FWA for purposes of repairing extensive damage to the canal caused by overdraft pumping-induced subsidence;
  • Adopt and implement effective management actions that limit further subsidence impacts to the canal;
  • Include a FWA representative in a standing committee authorized to recommend management actions to limit further subsidence; and
  • Timely enforce the required metering and reporting of groundwater pumping from deep wells in certain land subsidence management zones.

ETGSA’s actions and, in many cases, failures to act, have caused additional subsidence, damaged the Friant-Kern Canal, deprived FWA of funding to repair and restore the canal, and interfered with AEWSD’s contract for water deliveries from the Bureau of Reclamation.

Statement by Jason Phillips, FWA Chief Executive Officer

“The 2021 settlement agreement between FWA, AEWSD and ETGSA was hailed at the time as a landmark agreement, one that would serve as a guide for other regions dealing with the same water management, subsidence, and groundwater issues facing the southern San Joaquin Valley.

The basic, yet unique premise of the agreement was that FWA agreed to support the efforts of the ETGSA to implement their groundwater sustainability plan, as long as the forecasted additional subsidence that would occur along the Friant-Kern Canal was properly controlled and mitigation funding was provided to assist FWA’s efforts to restore the delivery capacity of the canal. FWA viewed this approach as a preferable alternative to other, more confrontational options.

FWA has spent considerable time, energy, and resources trying to work with the ETGSA to improve its practices for managing and minimizing subsidence impacts, particularly as to the Page 3 of 3 most important piece of water infrastructure on the east side of the valley, the Friant-Kern Canal.

Unfortunately, after all of that effort and commitment, we’ve gotten to this point where subsidence has continued at an alarming rate, while at the same time, water accounting and management practices by the ETGSA have resulted in groundwater pumping penalty revenues falling well short of what was envisioned in the agreement. It’s become clear that without additional intervention from the courts and others, the unmitigated impacts to the Friant-Kern Canal will continue and possibly accelerate.

It is also clear that local control over management of the ETGSA is not working and is undermining the important principle we all pushed for in the Valley to maintain local control of our groundwater basins. The path we are on currently certainly does not work for FWA, it’s not working for the disadvantaged communities whose water supply, water quality, and jobs are at stake, and it’s not working for our project partners at the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources who have contributed tens of millions of dollars towards fixing the damage done to the canal.”

Statement by Edwin Camp, AEWSD Board President

“For nearly 60 years, AEWSD and its landowners have relied on the 152-mile Friant-Kern Canal (from Fresno to Bakersfield) to support high-value agriculture and conjunctively manage its surface and groundwater resources. Subsidence impacts to the Friant-Kern Canal have significantly impacted AEWSD’s water supply reliability to the detriment of its landowners and the region including the groundwater resources used by local water systems that serve drinking water to the residents of the City of Arvin and other severely disadvantaged communities.

AEWSD wishes to protect the Friant-Kern Canal from continued subsidence and related impacts to its conveyance capacity and exorbitant maintenance costs. AEWSD’s ability to supply water to its landowners, while managing towards sustainable groundwater conditions, relies on maintaining the canal conveyance to deliver its contracted surface water. Unfortunately, the current groundwater overdraft and subsidence trends within ETGSA are not acceptable and we have run out of options in working with the ETGSA towards a path of mutual sustainability.

We are extremely disappointed with ETGSA’s continued refusal to comply with the settlement agreement which has diverted funding intended for the urgently needed Friant-Kern Canal Project, undermining significant investment by the Friant family and its state and federal partners. The ETGSA groundwater market is taking mitigation money from the Friant-Kern Canal Project and enriching the pockets of ETGSA landowners. This is particularly concerning in light of ETGSA’s failure to prepare an adequate Groundwater Sustainability Plan and ongoing violation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.”

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