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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.

Board Approves Joining Regional Water Authority

At the October 3rd meeting, the Board approved requesting to become an Interested Party of the Kings Basin Water Authority. As an Interested Party, McMullin Area GSA can add Groundwater Sustainability Plan projects to the Water Authority’s project list allowing for future consideration in grant proposals.

The Water Authority is a regional water agency formed to develop and implement an Integrated Regional Water Management Plan. The Water Authority supports the development of local solutions through projects and programs for the region’s most pressing water issues, like groundwater overdraft. Over the past decade, the Water Authority has brought in over $55 million in State and private grant funding to the region. The funding has been leveraged into over $87 million for planning and expanding local water management projects. The regional goals for the Kings Basin Water Authority are intended to address the primary problems and resource conflicts in the region. The coequal goals are to:

  • Halt, and ultimately reverse, the current overdraft and provide for sustainable management of surface and groundwater;
  • Increase the water supply reliability, enhance operational flexibility, and reduce system constraints;
  • Improve and protect water quality;
  • Provide additional flood protection; and
  • Protect and enhance aquatic ecosystems and wildlife habitat.

The process for becoming an Interested Party requires completing the Water Authority’s Interested Party Questionnaire, formally adopting the Kings Basin Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, and a voluntary contribution of $250.

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.

Board Discusses Potential DWR Funding Opportunity

At the August 1, 2018 Board Meeting, GSA technical consultants Provost & Pritchard reported on a potential opportunity to receive funding and/or services through the CA Department of Water Resources (DWR). To assist efforts to reach sustainability locally, DWR’s Technical Support Services (TSS) provide an opportunity for GSAs to apply for technical services, data, and tools.

Services are offered through DWR regional offices and/or their selected contractors and may include monitoring well installation work, video logging of agricultural wells to assess for conversion to monitoring wells, groundwater level monitoring training, installing extensometers that monitor land subsidence, and/or model training and support.

DWR has a total of $3 million in Technical Support Services available to GSAs statewide, and critically overdrafted subbasins receive priority. The McMullin Area GSA lies within the Kings Subbasin, designated as critically overdrafted. The Board discussed the costs associated with applying versus the potential value of returns. The McMullin Area GSA’s consultants assured that the application process is straightforward and the services could help pay for tasks that have already been budgeted for, such as installing monitoring wells to fill data gaps.

Because applications must be submitted on behalf of an entire subbasin rather than by an individual GSA, the seven Kings Subbasin GSAs would need to agree to pursue the services. Once the general application is submitted by the Subbasin, the GSA could then submit individual requests for services.

The McMullin Area GSA is committed to continually seeking opportunities that lower the cost of reaching sustainability and will continue to assess the value of the TSS provided by DWR.

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.


Proposition 218 Election Passes, Keeps SGMA Implementation Local

The McMullin Area GSA Board successfully passed the Proposition 218 Election to adopt a $19/acre property-related fee in accordance with Water Code section 10730(c). Two valid protests were submitted to the GSA in opposition to the proposed fee that will be levied on landowners within the GSA. A majority protest was needed for the Election to fail.

The $19 per acre fee will fund GSA administration and activities related to planning and implementing local projects aimed at achieving State mandated sustainability. The nearest deadline is completion of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) by January 2020. Passing the election to fund this effort is a critical success for local implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The McMullin Area GSA Board is committed to retaining local control over SGMA implementation, where landowner dollars are utilized most efficiently and beneficially.

The fee will be collected by the County of Fresno from all parcel owners within the McMullin Area GSA boundaries, excluding parcels of 2 acres or less that are assumed to be de minimus extractors of groundwater under SGMA. Parcels of 2 acres or less were excluded from the Election after the official rate study revealed the cost associated with billing outweighs potential funds received.

You can use the following DWR tool to determine if your property lies within the boundaries of the McMullin Area GSA: DWR GSA Map Tool

Proposition 218 is a Constitutional Initiative approved by the voters of California in November 1996. It requires new or increased fees and assessments be approved by affected landowners.

Consultants Propose GSP Project Concepts for McMullin Area

At the May 2nd Board Meeting, technical consultants Provost & Pritchard presented a comprehensive list of potential Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) project concepts for mitigating groundwater overdraft in the Raisin City Water District and McMullin Area GSA. The consultants actively sought public participation and input on the proposed concepts to help prioritize those most favored.

A score granted based on specified criteria will prioritize projects from a technical perspective. The higher the score, the more favorable the project based on the following criteria:

  • Areas of Favorable Recharge (For example, areas of hard pan are likely to receive a lower score on this criteria)
  • Land Use
  • Annual Cost per Acre-Foot
  • Land Owners
  • Project Time to Implement
  • Water Supply/Water Rights
  • Yield
  • Environmental/Regulatory
  • Project Outside of GSA
  • Number of Cooperating Agencies

The consultants presented 37 potential project concepts within five broad project categories: Conjunctive Use (the combined use of surface water and groundwater), Surface Water, Land Management, Water Conservation, and Other. All projects discussed have the ability to mitigate groundwater overdraft, but selecting those to pursue is pending Board and public input on high and low priority measures.

Presented were a number of Conjunctive Use projects, including solutions such as intentional flood irrigation or groundwater recharge in dedicated basins and grower reservoirs. Surface Water projects range from developing surface water storage to more innovative solutions, for instance internal surface water trading amongst growers in the McMullin Area GSA. Land Management solutions include crop conversion to lower water use crops, or landowners selling land but retaining groundwater rights.

Public comment expressed desires for the pursuance of least-cost project options; inquiry surrounded the possibility of incentive programs for projects that would entail voluntary adjustments in landowner water-use practices, such as purposeful flood irrigation for recharge.

Using the scoring criteria in conjunction with landowner feedback, the consultants are working to identify creative solutions that lessen the burden of reaching mandated sustainability as they move toward developing a more detailed project roadmap.

Technical Consultant Outlines Monitoring Network Density and Methodologies for Groundwater Level Stabilization

At the April 5 Board meeting, McMullin Area Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) technical consultants Provost & Pritchard provided an update on Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) progress. The presentation included current breadth of the groundwater level monitoring network and necessary improvements in the network to reach required network density. The consultants also covered potential methodologies for reaching groundwater level stabilization, an element of GSP sustainable management criteria.

GSP development progress outlined below.


The purpose of the monitoring network discussed is specific to groundwater level measurement. The map below indicates with a blue dot actively monitored wells within the McMullin Area (outlined in red) that offer historical data on groundwater levels.

Although the map indicates a high density of groundwater level monitoring wells, to qualify for the monitoring network the well must be accompanied by a Well Completion Report. A Well Completion Report details construction information such as depth, perforations, and date established. A total of 9 wells currently qualify within the McMullin Area GSA, but 20-30 additional monitoring wells are needed to satisfy the necessary well density for the network. The map below indicates qualifying wells within the GSA.

Potential actions to fill the data gap includes one or more of the following: 1) Obtain additional Well Completion Reports for existing wells; 2) Video wells in absence of Well Completion Reports to obtain necessary construction information; 3) Establish new dedicated monitoring wells. Completion of the monitoring network density is projected for 2030.


As a part of its sustainable management criteria, SGMA requires groundwater levels stabilize between 2020 and 2040. Groundwater level stabilization success is measured by maintaining the “measurable objective”, a specified groundwater level established by the GSA and approved by DWR.

Measurable objective: average maintained groundwater level over the long-term. Must be met by 2040. Success metric of groundwater level stabilization

Minimum threshold: the lowest possible groundwater level allowed in the worst case scenario. Level cannot cause an “undesirable result” and thus cannot be an arbitrary number. Undesirable results are defined by the GSA and approved by DWR in line with DWR’s suggested Best Management Practices.

In the report, Provost & Pritchard outlined potential methodologies to establish the measurable objective and minimum threshold groundwater levels. The methodologies presented rely on three sustainable criteria variables: rate of groundwater decline, rate of mitigation, and operational flexibility. Each sustainable criteria variable can be determined a number of ways, and once determined are used in relationship with one another to establish a methodology for setting and reaching the measurable objective to achieve groundwater level stabilization.

Rate of groundwater decline is the rate at which groundwater levels have declined over a set period of time, and can be determined using one of three frameworks:

  1. Look at last 20 years, or
  2. Look at worst 20 years, or
  3. Look at hydrologic average period

Rate of mitigation is the rate at which improvements towards the measurable objective are made, and can be determined one of three ways:

  1. Constant (small, equal improvements each year), or
  2. Phased (slow at first with increased rate of progress over time), or
  3. Deferred mitigation (no progress until last 5 years; not recommended, unlikely to be accepted by DWR)

Operational Flexibility is the range of fluctuation in groundwater level allowed that still maintains the measurable objective average, taking into consideration dry versus wet years. The lowest range level of operational flexibility allowed is equal to the minimum threshold. The range of flexibility can be determined one of three ways:

  1. Recent drought
  2. Other smaller drought
  3. Conjunctive use operations

The graph below illustrates the sustainability criteria variables and their relationship to the measurable objective and minimum threshold.

Provost & Pritchard recommends determining groundwater decline from the framework of the last 20 years, establishing phased rate mitigation, and setting operational flexibility using the recent drought. This methodology considers the most favorable and realistic conditions for the McMullin Area GSA stakeholders without comprising compliance with DWR’s guidelines.

Fee Study Report Adopted by the Board, McMullin Area GSA moves forward with Proposition 218 Election

At the Special Board Meeting Wednesday, April 11th, McMullin Area GSA consultant Alison Lechowicz of Lechowicz + Tseng Municipal Consultants presented a Fee Study Report for adoption by the Board. Successful adoption of the Report signals approval to conduct a Proposition 218 Election as a means to secure McMullin Area GSA funding. Funding is needed to cover the costs associated with the GSA, including costs to administer the new agency, prepare and develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan, and develop groundwater projects.

The Board approved hiring the rate consultant at the March 7th board meeting to conduct the Report as mandated by Proposition 218. The Fee Study ensures that calculated fees are based on the reasonable cost of providing service, in this case the GSA’s annual budget costs required to implement SGMA, and that fees proportionally recover costs from ratepayers. The five-year budget spanning fiscal years 2019-2023 was used to calculate the proportional per/acre fee, considered a property-related water service charge.

The proposed fee rate adopted by the Board of Directors is $19/acre. Absence of a majority protest in opposition to the fee signals landowner approval for the Board to adopt and levy $19/acre on said landowners within the boundaries of the McMullin Area GSA.

Failure to adopt the proposed fee will result in loss of local control over implementing SGMA, and powers to implement the law will fall back to the State Water Resources Control Board. Local implementation by the McMullin GSA is the least cost option that carries the most benefits for the community of landowners within its boundaries.

A public hearing will be held on June 6th, 2018 at 2:00 pm at the Kerman Community Center, 15101 W Kearney Blvd., Kerman, CA 93630.

For more information regarding the Proposition 218 Election, State Intervention, and to review resources, visit our Proposition 218 Groundwater Fee webpage.

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