Farmers that are thinking of submitting a drilling permit to their local permitting agency for a new well are now having to go through an extra step before approval.
Farmers in the Central Valley are finding it more difficult to drill for new agriculture wells under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new drilling requirements, as the permit approval process now requires local groundwater sustainability agencies (GSA) to determine the wells are not inconsistent with the groundwater sustainability plan for the local groundwater sustainability agency, among other criteria.
Issued in March, Newsom’s executive order added three new criteria that must be met before drilling occurs and requires local GSAs to make that determination, a process that Wes Harmon, owner of Big River Drilling LLC., located in Riverdale, described as being mired in confusion and causing distress among the agriculture community.
“It’s really hard [to hear when they call] because I have a bunch of small farmers and they can’t get a permit. Their fields are out of water, their diaries are out of water and you can’t get a well drilling permit,” Harmon said.
Micheal Anthony Panoo, owner and operator of Signh Ranch in Selma is a fourth-generation farmer and grows raisins on his ranch. Panoo said he hopes to leave his ranch to his son and continue their farming tradition, but Panoo said since his well dried up and he hasn’t heard back on the status of his permit, he’s not sure that will be a possibility.
“This is what I live off of, I’m retired. This is basically what I live off of, this ranch. [This is] my source of income,” Panoo said.
Without the approval of his permit under the new regulations, Panoo said not having access to water will put his ranch “in a rough spot,” because he doesn’t know what he’ll have left to do.
“We haven’t done anything, we’re waiting and giving them the benefit of the doubt that they’re going to go ahead and give me the permit. But I haven’t heard from anyone,” Panoo said.
The new process for approving permits has caused confusion among farmers about who is responsible for each aspect of the permitting process.
Kassy Chauhan, North Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency (NKGSA) Executive Officer, said the timeline for this executive order to end is “unclear” but she expects it will remain in place until the end of summer, during the “heavy pumping season” according to Chauhan.
Before approving a farmer’s permit to drill, the local GSA must make the following determinations according to the executive order, 1) the proposed well would not be inconsistent with any sustainable groundwater management program established in any applicable groundwater sustainability plan adopted by that groundwater sustainability agency, 2) the new well won’t interfere with the production and functioning of existing nearby wells, and 3) the new well won’t be likely to cause subsidence that would adversely impact or damage nearby infrastructure.
But according to Chauhan, after the Department of Water Resources held a ‘listening session’ last Thursday on April 14, they were able to gain a “better definition” of what is required and how counties, local permitting agencies, and the GSA may implement those requirements contained in the executive order.
“Because of that, the county and the process that they’re going through to obtain these approvals has evolved as well,” Chauhan said.
Chauhan said that Fresno County originally required the GSAs to make the findings related to the three aforementioned criteria in the executive order but has since changed.
“After the listening session with the department of water resources last week, the county has changed their requirements for new well permit applications to only require the GSAs to make the finding that the drilling of that well is not inconsistent with their groundwater sustainability plan,” Chauhan said
Once that finding is made, Chauhan said the permit is resubmitted back to the county and it is left up to the county to make the determinations on the remaining two criteria before approval.
Any permits that are issued after March 28, 2022, Chauhan said had to satisfy those conditions.
Chauhan encourages others to check out the resources offered by the NKGSA such as their ‘groundwater guide’ for domestic well owners available in different languages located on their website and encourages anyone with questions to reach out and contact her at email@example.com.