GSP Updates

Water and Money…and the MAGSA Water Budget

As anyone who pays for groceries, rent, equipment, labor, utilities, etc. knows, it is much more effective to work with a budget so that the expenses can be planned for and “covered” as appropriate when the piper calls. The income side needs to be accounted for in advance of the payments side to avoid writing rubber checks and paying “overdraft charges” or, ultimately, getting services reduced or cut off.

Groundwater management is set up in much the same manner (interesting that the water world refers to extraction greater than what is supportable as “overdraft”).  Each basin/Subbasin/GSA (Groundwater Sustainability Agency) area must assess the amounts and types of water coming into the area before the determination can be made as to what can support what is expected to be needed to cover the extractions.  As in either equation, expenses (or extractions) in excess of income (water inflow or import) will result in the “accounts” being in the red or in “overdraft.” 

In recognition of these parallels, the SGMA legislation requires the GSA to do the math on an annual basis to check the status of the “checkbook” balance as far as water is concerned.  What we are all seeking, of course, is the checkbook being balanced, thereby avoiding the negative impacts of miscalculation.  Unfortunately, groundwater is considerably more difficult to account for, so one of the continuous and continuing efforts which the GSA will be pursuing is the better understanding of our account balances so we can achieve real, verifiable balance at the earliest possible time.

At the last GSP (Groundwater Sustainability Plan) update, Lynn Groundwater from Provost and Pritchard walked the group through the range of somewhat limited knowledge currently available to us.  One method of analysis, using groundwater contour maps, shows our negative balance to be 18,000 acre-feet.  Another method, using ET (evapotranspiration) estimates and crop patterns, shows a deficit of 79,000 acre-feet.  The difference, or “gap” will need to be narrowed over the next twenty years as we gather additional measurements and other data necessary to clarify the actual “overdraft.”

In the meantime, MAGSA intends to focus its efforts heavily on the possibilities for additional supply side (income) to better offset the anticipated deficits currently anticipated.  We will look for additional water to offset the demands before having to cut back on the pumping (check writing).  Balance is, and shall continue to be, the goal.  We will do what any business person does, continue to adjust the income and expense (inflow and outflow) to ultimately achieve that balance!

The planned pace of sustainability in the McMullin Area will provide early flexibility

The SGMA requires subbasins to become sustainable by 2040. Reaching sustainability objectives will not occur overnight, but rather will require the laying of a foundation at the onset of implementation that yields results in groundwater conditions over the entire 20 year stabilizing period and the 50 year planning horizon. As MAGSA takes stock of current groundwater conditions, the Board must consider the rate at which mitigation will occur.

The orderly implementation of sustainability efforts needs to strike a balance between practicality and intensity. Identified in the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP), the planned rate of mitigation must be approved by Department of Water Resources (DWR). The planned rate needs to set forth a path to achieve sustainability objectives on a feasible timeline.

MAGSA’s technical consultant Lynn Groundwater, Provost & Pritchard, reviewed three alternatives for the rate of mitigation: a constant rate, a phased rate, and a deferred rate. Constant mitigation sets an even pace of 25% improvement every 5 years toward the sustainability objectives. This option is likely acceptable to DWR, but may not be practical as initial projects and management actions will take time to develop. A phased mitigation schedule starts more slowly initially, with an increased rate of progress over time. This rate would allow time to develop management actions and build projects that may not yield the bulk of the intended results until further down the implementation timeline. Deferred mitigation delays 100% of improvement to the last 5 years of GSP implementation, leaving all progress to occur between 2035 and 2040. This rate is unlikely to be accepted by DWR.

The best fit for MAGSA’s sustainability timeline appears likely to be a phased mitigation schedule. Laying the foundation for the service area’s groundwater management will mean heavy lifting on the front end of the timeline to develop the nuts and bolts of projects and management action mechanisms. Phased mitigation grants flexibility to establish this foundation that will yield increased results in later implementation years.

MAGSA developing groundwater level metrics, sustainability criteria considered for individual wells

Setting metrics for groundwater level is underway in MAGSA. At the February 6th Board Meeting, technical consultant Lynn Groundwater, Provost & Pritchard, discussed MAGSA’s methodology for setting the criteria that indicates whether or not sustainable levels of groundwater are met. Known as sustainable management criteria, these levels are guided by historical groundwater level data. The Kings Subbasin coordinated effort has adopted MAGSA’s methodology, with a few variances such as time period of data used.

Sustainable Management Criteria are the SGMA metrics of success. The criteria will include numeric values for groundwater depth. These values will guide sustainability efforts. The first value is the measurable objective: the groundwater depth you must reach and maintain. The second value is the minimum threshold: the groundwater depth you cannot drop below. A range of flexible values, the operational flexibility, will also be determined. The operational flexibility takes into account historical declines and the potential for future drought occurrences. The intent of operational flexibility is to allow groundwater depths to drop for a time (e.g. during a drought) as long as recovery toward the measurable objective follows. 

Using data to determine historical rates of water level decline is important for setting reasonable sustainability objectives. Historical data helps set the objectives. Future data will inform Agency managers of progress occurring toward achievement of those objectives. MAGSA is using historical data beginning 1990-present from wells within its service area. Progress toward the sustainability objectives will be tracked using data collected from the monitoring network of spatially distributed wells.  Moving forward, MAGSA plans to collect groundwater level data from each well at least every March and October. Each well within the network will have its own minimum threshold and measurable objectives against which to measure new data.

Sustainability progress will follow a phased mitigation schedule, starting slowly at first with increased rate of progress over time. This allows time to begin developing management actions and building projects that may not yield the bulk of results until further down the GSP implementation road.  

As Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) draft chapters take shape for internal review, technical consultants are actively seeking public input early on from stakeholders during Board meetings and via the Undesirable Results online survey. The input received prior to the official GSP 90-day public review period allows maximum stakeholder concerns and preferences to be considered and included in early GSP chapter drafts.

Water Quality Sustainable Criteria Considered for MAGSA GSP

At the December 5 Board meeting, MAGSA technical consultant Owen Kubit, Water Resources Engineer at Provost & Pritchard, discussed water quality as it relates to SGMA and implementation within the McMullin Area. Water Quality is one of the six Sustainability Indicators. This indicator is concerned with the degradation of water quality. 

Sustainability according to the Sustainable Management Criteria is achieved by avoiding “significant and unreasonable” results across the Sustainability Indicators. The following metrics set by MAGSA and approved by DWR serve as the measuring stick of sustainability across the Sustainability Indicators: 

Minimum Threshold – the lowest result allowed in the worst-case scenario. 

Undesirable Result – a result defined by MAGSA and approved by DWR. An undesirable result occurs when conditions related to the sustainability indicator becomes significant and unreasonable. 

Measurable Objective – average maintained result over the long-term. Must be met by 2040. Each GSA will set its own results and objectives across the Sustainability Indicators using the methodology coordinated among the seven GSA’s in the Kings Subbasin.

  Water quality Sustainable Management Criteria in the McMullin Area include four classifications: municipal wells, agricultural wells, contaminant plumes, and rural residential wells. The proposal by MAGSA’s technical consultant is to collect data for five years and set the criteria in 2025 due to the lack of existing groundwater quality data. The Sustainable management criteria can be updated in the 5-year updates of the plan.  

As the MAGSA Board considers the best method for complying with SGMA’s water quality requirements, the objective is to have a cooperative approach to inform MAGSA’s management decisions to prevent degraded water quality, without unduly repeating regional monitoring efforts.

Twelve potential projects considered in or near the McMullin Area GSA

The McMullin Area GSA technical consultants have identified twelve projects potentially suitable for dedicated and on-farm groundwater recharge. Individual projects’ potential average annual yield ranges from about 3,200 acre feet (AF) per year to 29,000 AF per year. Many of the proposed sites have some combination of existing infrastructure and/or resources endorsing project feasibility, including pumping stations, canal systems, and basins that are tied to existing surface water supply sources. No surveying or design by the McMullin Area GSA has taken place and project consideration is solely conceptual based on input from McMullin Area GSA Board members, growers, and knowledge of the area.

A range of factors contributes to the success of implementing a recharge project at the proposed sites: acquisition of additional surface water supply in light of scarcity and existing water rights, project cost per acre foot of supply, willingness of cooperating agencies, and willingness of landowners to convert land use or sell property, among others. The McMullin Area GSA will use the varying factors as scoring criteria to help rank and prioritize the projects.

Heavily weighted on the list of criteria for the groundwater recharge projects is water supply availability. Potential surface water sources include the Kings River, Central Valley Project, and/or storm water from the Fresno area, although existing water rights pose a barrier in some cases to acquisition by the GSA. The availability of the water supply likely holds a higher maximum score potential than other criteria such as land use. The more sources of water supply available to a project site, the higher the score.

Many of the sites are poised with infrastructure components suitable for recharge, but improvements or additions would need to be made for project completion. This could include extending canal conveyance from surrounding irrigation districts to reach into the McMullin Area GSA, or enlarging existing canals to increase carrying capacity.

Groundwater recharge is one of the project types considered by the McMulllin Area GSA to stabilize groundwater levels and reach sustainability by increasing water supply. To complement projects, management actions that reduce water demand and improve data monitoring will also be implemented in the McMullin Area GSA. Projects and management actions, as well as their implementation plan, must be included in the Groundwater Sustainability Plan due to the State in January of 2020.

Approximately 1,000 wells in the McMullin Area GSA identified in well canvass effort

Approximately 1,000 wells within the McMullin Area GSA have been matched with a well completion report as a part of the well canvass effort. Some of these wells may be included in the GSA’s monitoring network; a SGMA requirement, the well monitoring network will collect data that informs sustainability progress. The monitoring network density for MAGSA is about two wells per township/range. Wells must be accompanied by a well completion report to be included in the official monitoring network. A well completion report includes construction information including depth and perforated intervals, among other specifications. The GSA’s technical consultants successfully obtained matched reports for the wells within the GSA’s boundary (pictured below, click to enlarge).

McMullin Area GSA Wells 

Groundwater levels measured by wells in the network will be a key data component for monitoring sustainability goals in the McMullin Area GSA; the data is an important metric for the McMullin Area GSA to measure impacts of future projects and management actions on groundwater levels within the agency boundary.

Federal grant awarded to McMullin Area GSA to conduct water marketing study and groundwater credit system

The McMullin Area GSA has been awarded a WaterSMART Fiscal Year 2018 Water Marketing Strategy Grant from the Bureau of Reclamation. The McMullin Area application was among those receiving the highest scores. A major element of the scoring criteria was landowner support letters. Thanks to strong support from McMullin Area landowners, the grant application was successful.

The Bureau anticipates $193,000 of Federal funds will be awarded to the GSA for the development of a groundwater credit program for landowners including a water marketing strategy study. The award amount will be confirmed once the project scope and budget is refined.

A water marketing program includes proactive strategies for bringing surface water into the McMullin Area. The study will include inter-agency outreach efforts to coordinate and plan for future water transfers, as well as hydrologic studies, pricing and economic impact studies, legal water rights studies, and infrastructure evaluations.

A groundwater credit system creates a mechanism for allocating groundwater resources among landowners to either bank, trade, or sell. Developing the program will include pricing options, legal issues, economic values of local water, socioeconomic impacts, groundwater level impacts, project monitoring, as well as specific rules and regulations for implementation.

The grant award allows the McMullin Area GSA to move forward toward program study and development, and offsets the costs associated with developing this solution. The Bureau anticipates awarding the grant funds to McMullin Area GSA this year.

MAGSA to utilize existing efforts in regional water quality monitoring

At the September 5th Board Meeting, McMullin Area GSA (MAGSA) technical consultant Lynn Groundwater, Provost & Pritchard, discussed the agency’s efficient approach to SGMA-mandated water quality management. The State measures sustainability using six sustainability indicators that when managed appropriately, should avoid “undesirable results”. Significant and unreasonable degraded water quality is included under SGMA as one of the six undesirable results. MAGSA plans to utilize the water quality monitoring efforts of existing regional programs including the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) and the County of Fresno’s Rural Domestic Well Groundwater Quality program.

Under ILRP, this fall 2018 the Kings River Water Quality Coalition will begin sampling groundwater monitoring wells for water quality indicators; designated constituent wells will be monitored annually for Nitrates, EC, DO, pH, and temperature, and every five years for additional indicators such as minerals. Additional sampling data compiled by Fresno County upon installation of new or deepened domestic wells will provide the GSA insight into potential presence of water quality contaminants such as Total Coliform Bacteria or E Coli Bacteria.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board oil field program is another potential resource for water quality information. The program addresses issues that arise with unlined ponds used to dispose water that is produced as a byproduct of oil and natural gas, a risk to groundwater quality.

The cooperative approach will inform MAGSA’s management decisions to prevent degraded water quality, without unduly repeating regional monitoring efforts.

Groundwater Credit System would bring economic benefit to landowners, while increasing overall water use efficiency

The McMullin Area GSA submitted an application for a grant from the US Bureau of Reclamation to conduct a Water Marketing Strategy Study and Groundwater Credit System. At the July 11th Board Meeting the GSA’s technical consultants Provost&Pritchard discussed the mechanics of a groundwater credit system and its potential benefits for landowners.

While a water marketing program would entail a proactive strategy for bringing surface water into the area, a groundwater credit system focuses on allocating groundwater resources among landowners within the GSA. The two concepts work hand-in-hand, as any additional surface water brought into the GSA offsets groundwater use whether used directly or for recharge.

Under a groundwater credit system landowners would be given a groundwater allocation based on acreage to either keep, trade, or sell to other landowners within the GSA. Under the credit system, a landowner could choose to convert a portion of their land for utilization that decreases their water demand, such as grazing or solar, resulting in surplus groundwater to trade or sell. On the supply side, surface water acquisition could be used to offset groundwater dependence allowing landowners to conserve a portion of their groundwater credit to trade.

Because of the economic benefit attached to unused groundwater under a credit system, landowners are incentivized to practice sustainable water management. With higher efficiency in water use across the GSA, there is potential for improved water reliability and increased flexibility in grower operations. A water marketing and groundwater credit system would work in tandem to bring long-term sustainability benefits while offsetting the potential burden of sustainable groundwater management experienced by landowners.

This is one of the programs the McMullin Area GSA Board is investigating to include in the Groundwater Sustainability Plan. The program aligns with the Board’s goal of integrating flexibility into compliance on behalf of the landowners they represent.

McMullin Area GSA Pursues Grant for Water Marketing Study and Groundwater Credit System

The McMullin Groundwater Sustainability Agency (MAGSA) is planning to submit a grant application to the United States Bureau of Reclamation for a Water Marketing Strategy Study.  The Study will involve a Water Marketing Study and development of a Groundwater Credit System.

The Water Marketing Study will include interagency outreach efforts to study, coordinate and plan for future surface water transfers.  Topics addressed will include hydrologic studies to identify the likely frequency and quantity of possible transfers, pricing and economic impact studies, legal and water rights studies, and infrastructure evaluations.

The study will also develop a Groundwater Credit System whereby landowners that do not use all of their groundwater allocation in the future can bank, sell or trade it to other landowners.  Topics investigated will include legal issues, pricing options, economic values of local water, socioeconomic impacts, groundwater level impacts, project monitoring, and specific rules and regulations for implementing the program.

Both of these programs will help to expand lines of communication, improve water reliability, improve water flexibility, reduce dependency on groundwater, and reduce future water conflicts.

The application will be due on July 17, 2018 and up to $200,000 is available to applicants.