Second groundwater agency facing state probation, lawsuit

The area encompassing the Tule Subbasin.

A second group of local groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) is facing an evaluation by the State Water Board that could lead to a year-long probation and perhaps loss of local control of groundwater pumping in southwestern Tulare county.

The first group of GSAs reported to be under consideration for probation was the Tulare Lake subbasin. The second problematic district is the Tule Subbasin.

The process of considering probation for the seven GSAs in the Tule Subbasin will begin with a pair of public hearings in early April.

An online hearing will take place 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, April 5.

An in-person hearing will follow from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday, April 8 at the Porterville Veterans Memorial Building, 1900 W Olive Ave.

State Water Board staff will present an overview of potential state action and accept comments from the public. Information on how to attend the hearings is available at

The probation hearing for the Tule Subbasin will follow at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, September 17. The in-person hearing will be held in the Coastal Hearing Room of the Joe Serna Jr.– CalEPA Headquarters Building, 1001 I Street, in Sacramento. Information on online participation in the hearing is available at


Seven GSAs Under Review

This is the second review of a local groundwater subbasin for possible state intervention.

The Tulare Lake Subbasin is also scheduled for a probation hearing on Tuesday, April 15 at the Sacramento address listed above. In both cases, the state believes the agencies that control pumping of groundwater have not provided adequate plans to protect the Valley’s vanishing aquifer.

The agencies in the Tule Subbasin accused of failing to prevent overuse of groundwater by their members include:

  • Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency
  • Delano-Earlimart Irrigation District Groundwater Sustainability Agency
  • Pixley Irrigation District Groundwater Sustainability Agency
  • Lower Tule River Irrigation District Groundwater Sustainability Agency
  • Tri-County Water Authority Groundwater Sustainability Agency
  • Alpaugh Groundwater Sustainability Agency
  • County of Tulare Groundwater Sustainability Agency – Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency

With the five other GSAs under scrutiny in the Tulare Lake Subbasin, that brings the total number to an even dozen local agencies who failed to meet the requirements of the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), at least in the eyes of state regulators.

The agencies at odds with the state can avoid probation if they’ve managed to rework their groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs). SGMA requires all GSAs to compile a plan for preventing further degradation of groundwater supplies in their areas. In the two cases being considered for probation, the state has found the 12 GSAs have failed to make adequate plans.

The Tule Subbasin is located in the southwest of Tulare County covering about 744 square miles or just under 500,000 acres. About 150,000 people live in the subbasin, mostly in the cities of Porterville and East Porterville, Terra Bella, Tipton, Pixley and Earlimart. The area also includes Alpaugh, Allensworth, Ducor, Richgrove, Poplar-Cotton Center, Teviston and Woodville.


Tule Subbasin Overpumping Threatens Friant-Kern Canal

The plan Tule Subbasin GSAs have crafted to reach groundwater sustainability practices by 2040 are not adequate to the job, staff at the Department of Water Resources has determined, prompting the hearing next September. A similarly inadequate plan issued by the Tulare Lake Subbasin GSAs is also the cause for a state probationary hearing.

However, there’s a major issue in the Tule Subbasin. Overdrafting of water there is undermining the Friant-Kern Canal. The canal is continuing to sink even as the Friant Water Authority works to complete a major project to undo damage the canal has already experienced. Without action to stop overpumping of groundwater, Friant-Kern will lose capacity, leaving communities without water or with a short supply.

According to a draft staff report of recommended actions from the State Water Board, bad planning in the Tule Subbasin goes beyond damage to the canal. It could put many of the subbasin’s residents at risk of running out of water:

“The GSPs will allow substantial impacts to people who rely on domestic wells for drinking, bathing, food preparation, and cleaning, as well as impacts to critical infrastructure such as canals (e.g., Friant-Kern Canal), levees, and the aquifer itself within the subbasin.”

The state identified four areas of weakness in the Tule Subbasin GSPs:

  • Chronic lowering of groundwater levels with insufficient management criteria.
  • Continued land subsidence (sinking).
  • Further degradation of groundwater quality.
  • Depletion of interconnected surface water.

If the Tule Subbasin GSAs can craft a sufficient conservation plan before the probation hearing, the action could be avoided.


Friant Water Authority Files Suit

What the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency – one of the Tule Subbasin GSAs – cannot avoid is a lawsuit filed by the Friant Water Authority and the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District. The lawsuit claims the Eastern Tule GSA has reneged on a contractual obligation to pay for damage caused to the Friant-Kern Canal by overpumping of groundwater by its members.

The members of the Eastern Tule GSA include the Porterville Irrigation District, the Saucelito Irrigation District, the Teapot Dome Water District, the Terra Bella Irrigation District, the Vandalia Water District, the city of Porterville and Tulare County.

The lawsuit claims the Friant-Kern Canal has sunk about nine feet due to pumping of water in the Eastern Tule GSA since it was constructed. The canal should move about 4,000 cubic feet of water per second. Because of the sinking, the capacity has been reduced to 1,500 cubic feet per second.

In 2021, the Eastern Tule GSA agreed to pay $200 million to pay for a major portion of the project to replace the sinking portions of the canal. However, the FWA’s lawsuit claims the Eastern Tule GSA’s management plan would allow pumping of groundwater that will cause another three feet of elevation loss.

The suit also claims the managers of Eastern Tule have failed to raise pumping fees sufficiently to pay its portion of the repair costs.

The suit was filed on February 15 in Tulare County Superior Court. A case management conference is set for 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 26 before Judge Brett Hillman in Department 2.

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