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Kings Subbasin community residents and GSA leaders gather for groundwater discussion in Riverdale

Panelists discuss complexity of the nearly 1 million acre service area

June 10, Riverdale – A community discussion on groundwater and the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) highlighted the complexity of the groundwater Subbasin that covers nearly 1 million acres and gave attendees a better understanding of how groundwater quality will be monitored in the Kings Subbasin.

GSA leaders representing five Kings Subbasin GSAs participated in a panel discussion, emphasizing the feat to coordinate and map out groundwater conditions in a Subbasin that includes 7 GSAs. Panelists included Gary Serrato, Executive OfficerNorth Kings GSA; Matt Hurley, General ManagerMcMullin Area GSA; Steven Stadler, Administrator, James Irrigation District GSA; Mark McKean, ChairNorth Fork Kings GSA; Chad Wegley, AdministratorKings River East GSA; and Ronald (Ronnie) Samuelian, Kings Subbasin Coordinator and Principal EngineerProvost & Pritchard Consulting Group.

Panelists discussed their plans to monitor water quality as it relates to groundwater pumping. Under SGMA, GSAs are required to ensure water quality degradation resulting from groundwater pumping is not significant and unreasonable. The Kings Subbasin GSA leaders emphasized water quality concerns are localized and must be individually looked at due to high variability; there is no one-size-fits-all management tool or threshold for the Subbasin.

Panelists also noted the GSAs will be looking for changes in trends, not one-time spikes in water quality measurements, to determine if there is a water quality concern that needs to be addressed. The GSAs have outlined a network of wells that will be used to monitor water quality moving forward. In many cases this well network is similar to the network used by existing water quality regulating programs, such as the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program that monitors nitrates for irrigated agriculture.

Additional workshop topics included an overview of SGMA, groundwater conditions in the Kings Subbasin, and why it is important for rural communities to participate in groundwater planning. The workshop was hosted by the Kings River Conservation District in association with Self-Help Enterprises.

Maintaining Status Quo for Water Quality is the Objective

Monitoring groundwater conditions is critical to successfully implement SGMA. Monitoring requires knowing the current groundwater conditions and then checking them regularly to see if conditions have changed. It is similar to regular checkups with your doctor to make sure you are in good health or if there are any changes that may cause concern. With the goal of being sustainable by 2040, checking in regularly on the “health” of the groundwater gives the MAGSA Board an indication whether conditions are okay are if adjustments need to be made. 

At the June 5 technical update, MAGSA’s technical consultant, Provost & Pritchard, presented information on water quality monitoring, one of the six criteria under SGMA that must be monitored. Research and analysis of water quality data shows MAGSA is currently not subject to any chronic drinking water issues.  Based on this analysis of current groundwater conditions, the objective to be sustainable is to maintain the status quo for water quality.

MAGSA will use data provided by GAMA (Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment Program) to monitor and record groundwater quality on an annual basis. GAMA is an online tool provided by the State Water Resources Control Board. GAMA integrates and displays groundwater quality data from several different sources on an interactive map. Analytical tools and reporting features help users assess groundwater quality and identify potential groundwater issues.

Several contaminants listed by GAMA were identified as being present in various locations within MAGSA but not at levels to cause health concerns. The contaminants include nitrates, 123TCP (trichloropropane), DBCP (1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane), arsenic, chloride, sodium, manganese, and total dissolved solids. These will be monitored going forward to make sure levels stay within the standards set by the government for drinking water quality.

Water Quality Monitoring Wells

Innovative project in MAGSA sparks interest from California water leaders

Don Cameron, MAGSA Board Chair, hosted a public tour of the McMullin On-Farm Flood Capture and Recharge Project at Terranova Ranch following the meeting of the California Water Commission on May 15th in Kerman. California Water Commissioners Armando Quintero, Carol Baker, and Maria Herrera joined the tour.

The tour group visited several sites along the project, still under construction. Once completed the project will provide an opportunity to capture available flood flows onto farm land to mitigate downstream flood risks and provide for groundwater recharge.

An important tool in the SGMA toolbox, groundwater recharge projects have the potential in years of excess surface water supply to offset groundwater pumping.

The McMullin project proved an excellent example for leaders of the California Water Commission to see the innovative solutions that will bring progress to sustainability efforts in the Central Valley.

Raffle winner claims prized YETI

MAGSA’s raffle contest concluded at the May 13th Open House, where the winning name of the YETI cooler was drawn. The raffle winner Jacob Niederquell grows almonds in the northern area of MAGSA.

Those on MAGSA’s Interested Persons email list were entered into the raffle for a chance to win the YETI cooler.

Thank you to our raffle sponsor, HP Water Systems for the generous YETI cooler donation.

Congrats to our winner, Jacob Niederquell!

FOX26 Town Hall on groundwater will highlight MAGSA sustainability efforts

MAGSA is a co-sponsor of the upcoming Thursday, May 23 FOX26 live Town Hall: Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, and will be represented on the panel by North Fork Kings GSA Board Chair, Mark McKean. Other panelists include:

  • Gary Serrato, North Kings GSA
  • Johnny Amaral, Friant Water Authority
  • Mario Santoyo, San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority
  • Thomas Esqueda, California Water Institute

The public is welcome to join the audience in-person at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District or watch from the comfort of their homes. The event will air live on FOX26 from 6:00-7:00 pm and will be streamed live on KMPH.com and the FOX26 mobile app. If you plan to attend as an audience member, it is recommended you arrive around 5:30 pm to secure a seat.

There will be a live audience and viewers will be able to submit questions using a special text number.

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!

Stakeholders indicate priorities on potential effects of groundwater conditions

In an effort to identify and prioritize stakeholder concerns relating to potential impacts that may result from groundwater conditions, MAGSA conducted a survey. The survey asked participants to rank potential effects that can occur across five sustainability indicators (in bold below) from most important to avoid to least important to avoid.

Top responses across the five sustainability indicators for the effects most important to avoid are:

  1. Reduction in groundwater storage: need to drill new wells
  2. Degraded water quality: impact to crop yield, water treatment for domestic use
  3. Land subsidence: damage to wells, damage to infrastructure
  4. Chronic lowering of groundwater levels: irrigation wells becoming unproductive, reduction of well pumping capacity
  5. Interconnected surface water depletion: concern the trees and riparian habitat will dry up

Survey results ensure stakeholder concerns are considered in MAGSA’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan.

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.

Adopting Kings Basin Integrated Regional Water Management Plan provides avenue for future project funding

At the February 6th meeting, the Board unanimously approved the adoption of the updated Kings Basin Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (IRWMP). As an interested party of the Kings Basin Water Authority, MAGSA can add Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) projects to the Water Authority’s project list allowing for future consideration in grant proposals.

Through IRWMP, the Water Authority supports the development of local solutions through projects and programs for the region’s most pressing water issues. Over the past decade, the Water Authority has brought in over $55 million in state and private grant funding to the region, which has been leveraged into over $87 million for planning and expanding local water management projects.

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