Central Valley residents came together at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District on Thursday, May 23 to participate in a discussion on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, set to take effect in 2020.
The town hall meeting, hosted by KMPH FOX 26, featured a panel of experts that included Mark McKean (North Fork Kings GSA Board Chair), Johnny Amaral (Friant Water Authority),
Mario Santoyo (Temperance Flats Project), Tommy Esqueda (California Water Institute) and Gary Serrato (North Kings GSA).
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a three-bill legislative package known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014, requiring anyone using a well pump to draw water from underground in order to replace an equal amount of water back to the ground.
Serrato said groundwater is a valuable resource for everyone, whether it’s residents in the city, farmers or people in smaller communities.
“The act requires us not only to protect, but to manage groundwater supply, something we’ve never done before,” Serrato said. “The state has allowed local agencies to come together and form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to allow the locals to put together a plan to address groundwater overdraft.”
Serrato said the Central Valley is designated as a critically overdrafted basin, so the goal is to have a plan by 2020 which will outline how to be sustainable.
McKean said not everybody agrees with the plan because there is a lot of oversight by the state, but something had to be done.
“It’s an unfunded mandate by the state, but we have seen a lot of local people step forward and address the issues in a very holding-hands method,” McKean said. “It has gone well so far.”
Santoyo said the goal is to obtain additional surface water by whatever means possible and make it reliable.
“We’ve been in a reverse program since the 90s,” Santoyo said. “The fact that we’re in an overdraft position today is nothing new. This was exactly the situation in the 20s, 30s and 40s.”
Santoyo said the economic impact of water shortage has been felt in the Valley.
“Agriculture is the primary driver in the Valley. To make agriculture work, it takes water and labor,” Santoyo said. “The majority of the population in the small towns are the laborers, so when the water started becoming short, it immediately caused unemployment.”
The experts also addressed concerns about putting a meter on pumps.
Santoyo said meters may not be needed in places where groundwater levels are constant, but it can be required in places where there is no surface water.
“Knowing Sacramento, they’re going to want to get into the detail and meters provide the details,” Santoyo said.
Residents at the town hall meeting expressed concerns about growers lacking the necessary funding to start digging for more wells.
“On our own farm, and other farmers are doing this as well, we’re doing on-farm recharge,” McKean said. “The benefits of that is that the infrastructure is already in place. You might have to do some additional infrastructure on your own farm, but there is already water being delivered in many cases. In other cases, you’re going to need to find a water source.”