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MAGSA Features: Mark Pitman

Securing a more sustainable future with On-Farm Recharge

Mark Pitman, like many MAGSA growers, understands the challenge of reaching sustainable groundwater levels. Farming has become increasingly complex over the last 50 years, and with the introduction of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in 2014, replenishing the region’s groundwater supply has come front and center as a top priority.

Mark is part of the Pitman Farms legacy. Pitman Farms was established in the 1960s as a poultry farm and later expanded with pistachio orchards in 2010. Most recently, Mark planted citrus orchards.

MAGSA growers have shown resilience in the face of changing groundwater availability, and consistently adapt to extreme weather conditions including drought. On-Farm Recharge is one method MAGSA growers are aiming to use to secure a more sustainable farming operation. On-Farm Recharge is a means of recharging the aquifer beneath growers’ farms using available surface water during wet years. When Mark planted citrus trees, he knew there would be the potential for On-Farm Recharge opportunities. He kept flood irrigation infrastructure when he installed drip irrigation lines.

“The role of MAGSA is to help farmers work together to provide technical solutions to maintain the water table and help promote the options that we have to be more sustainable,” Mark said.

One of these solutions MAGSA provides is On-Farm Recharge University (OFR-U), a 6-month-long learning opportunity for a group of growers in a cohort to learn about On-farm Recharge, with exclusive access to technical experts, resources, and personalized field site consultations.

Mark said he wanted to learn all he could about every option to maintain groundwater levels. The cohort experience through OFR-U provides focused support for growers. While the course is technical in nature, experts on OFR topics provide practical support and tailored education to growers seeking to initiate or expand their On-Farm Recharge practices.

“A technical solution is the right way to think about sustainable farming, and On-Farm Recharge University is that technical solution,” Mark said.

Not only has OFR-U provided invaluable technical solutions, but Mark says it has also simplified dense information so he can transfer his own knowledge to stakeholders.

“We need to know enough about it to be able to teach our stakeholders about it,” he said.

This is a way to learn practical tools about On-Farm Recharge, and the science behind what growers are doing to their farms. OFR-U also educates growers on the means to practice it.

The benefits of On-Farm Recharge will be felt among the MAGSA community with the support of its future infrastructure projects. MAGSA is a groundwater-dependent area, or “white area”, with no historical access to surface water supplies. Balancing groundwater supplies under SGMA will require MAGSA to be creative through partnerships with growers to conduct recharge on their fields. However, before recharge can begin, the infrastructure to deliver surface water supplies must be built from the ground up.

MAGSA’s goal is for growers like Mark to use surface water for irrigation and On-Farm Recharge thanks to new MAGSA infrastructure projects in motion like the McMullin On-Farm Flood Capture Expansion Project. This expansion project is the second phase of an existing On-Farm Recharge and flood capture project. It involves construction of a canal and structures to increase the conveyance from the James Bypass from 150 cubic feet per second to 450 cubic feet per second.

The Expansion Project will increase the potential farmland acreage for receiving surface water flows for On-Farm Recharge to an estimated 15,000 acres. Projects like this will help MAGSA achieve groundwater sustainability goals by 2040. The Expansion Project will give growers like Mark surface water conveyance access, where he can put his learned skills from OFR-U into practice!

Though Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) have the authority through SGMA to enact regulations and groundwater pumping limitations, MAGSA has focused on supply-side solutions growers can make to improve groundwater conditions under their farms.

“We need everybody’s help together to recharge our aquifers. We’re all on the same team. Either we all succeed together or we all fail together,” Mark said. “We’re doing this for the next generation – for our kids and our kids’ kids.”

Hats off to Cohort 0! On-Farm Recharge University completes workshop series

The first-ever grower cohort completed MAGSA’s On-Farm Recharge University (OFR-U) workshop series in April. Over a six-month period starting last November, “Cohort 0” completed six workshops covering a full breadth of On-Farm Recharge topics, from possible grant funding for OFR-related improvements to ideal timing and duration of flooding different crop types for recharge. 

OFR-U workshops were led by OFR expert Phil Bachand, PhD., and featured guest speakers with expertise in wide ranging On-Farm Recharge topics.

To complement workshops and provide real world examples of On-Farm Recharge, field trips were integrated into the cohort experience. A series of site visits are taking place through May, where the OFR-U team will meet growers at their farms to discuss site-specific implementation of On-Farm Recharge.

If you are a MAGSA grower and are interested in joining Cohort 1 this fall, email the OFR-U team at ofr@mcmullinarea.org!

Cultural resources survey at Aquaterra’s proposed project locations wraps up, a needed step for the water bank project to continue

A cultural resources survey at proposed project sites for the Aquaterra Water Bank wrapped up in mid-April. The survey was a necessary step requested by the Bureau of Reclamation to meet National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. Compliance with NEPA is key for the project to complete environmental review and continue to progress forward.

The surveyed area was roughly 70 miles long and 200 feet wide, and was conducted by a team of archeologists with MAGSA’s environmental consultant, Tetra Tech. A summary of survey results will be completed by the firm in the following weeks, although the team reported nothing of particular significance was discovered.

The Aquaterra Water Bank project area totals 80,000 acres and includes a vast expansion of canals, basins, and agricultural land to use as on-farm recharge sites. The project is a cornerstone of MAGSA’s strategy to achieve groundwater sustainability through surface water storage and recharge.

Once fully developed, Aquaterra will have the capacity to store 1.8 million acre-feet of water within MAGSA’s boundaries using 208,000 acre-feet of recharge capacity and 770 cubic feet per second of new conveyance.

MAGSA prioritized completing the cultural resources survey in its pursuit of moving forward to develop more water storage infrastructure for potential water bank subscribers, while benefiting landowners with improved local groundwater conditions.

MAGSA Awarded $2.8 Million Grant for Meters, Telemetry & Weather Stations through Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – On April 21, 2023, the McMullin Area Groundwater Sustainability Agency (MAGSA) was awarded a $2.8 million grant through the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Program to help fund the purchase and installation of electromagnetic flow meters with telemetry for 925 groundwater wells, along with six weather stations in the region.

“You can’t accurately manage what you don’t measure,” says MAGSA’s General Manager, Matt Hurley. “Real-time groundwater data will assist growers in their on-farm water management decisions and allow MAGSA to more effectively achieve groundwater sustainability by 2040.”

The installation of flow meters and telemetry will drastically improve water management within MAGSA and is expected to result in annual water savings of 20,508 acre-feet as a result of reduced pumping. 

MAGSA’s Precision Metering with Real-Time Remote Telemetry project was awarded alongside 83 others in 15 western states for a total of $140 million in water conservation and efficiency projects. 

Earning the grant award represents MAGSA’s determined pursuit to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) with a landowner-first approach, minimizing the out-of-pocket costs associated with implementing on-farm tools for groundwater management.

The grant funding will be used to implement MAGSA’s meter and telemetry incentive program for growers who registered their wells with the agency. MAGSA growers will receive further details on the incentive program details in coming months.

Groundwater sustainability is only possible through collaboration with landowners, regional partners, and the state. MAGSA is committed to pursuing grant funding and other creative opportunities to support landowners in working toward a sustainable future for generations to come.

Growers Invited to Participate in MAGSA Cropping Pattern Study

MAGSA, in collaboration with Fresno State, is conducting a study to create a database to help determine MAGSA’s water usage based on evapotranspiration (ET) and actual cropping patterns. The study is funded through a grant and is currently in its third year of a three-year project.

MAGSA is in the process of updating our region’s cropping pattern information to be as accurate as possible.  To date, MAGSA has no historical data to help determine the region’s water usage. MAGSA is currently using an estimated number which could be higher or lower than actual usage.

To ensure MAGSA makes wise and accurate management decisions, MAGSA needs growers’ involvement. In the upcoming months, MAGSA will send out a print and digital form for growers to provide MAGSA with information about the current crops grown on their fields. Please contact MAGSA with any questions about this project by calling (559) 515-3339 or emailing info@mcmullinarea.org.


Terranova Ranch Inc. Turns on Expansion Project Pump for First Time

On March 11, 2023, Terranova Ranch Inc. (located in the MAGSA region) turned on their 450-horsepower pump for the first time to take floodwater off the Kings River at the James Bypass at 70,000 gallons per minute. This water would otherwise continue past the Kings Subbasin and create a flood risk to downstream communities. Beyond flood protection, diverting flood water plays a vital role in recharging the region’s groundwater aquifer after an intense multi-year drought. Watch this video below to check out the action and hear from a few familiar MAGSA faces!

On-Farm Recharge University (OFR-U) Pilot Program Nears Completion

MAGSA’s On-Farm Recharge University pilot program- the first-ever On-Farm Recharge grower program in California- will graduate its first cohort this May. On-Farm Recharge University (OFR-U) was designed to help MAGSA growers become experts at implementing OFR so they are prepared when conveyance infrastructure is built to bring excess surface water onto their farms.

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