Ag Today March 27, 2017

Woodland hopes to link up with Yolo Groundwater Authority

By Jim Smith, Woodland Daily Democrat

POSTED: 03/25/17, 3:45 PM PDT | UPDATED: 1 DAY AGO

With a June 30 deadline approaching, farmers and cities such as Woodland in affected California groundwater basins are working to finalize the formation of locally controlled sustainability agencies.

The groundwater sustainability agencies, or GSAs, required under the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, will guide groundwater management in basins and sub-basins classified by the state as medium or high priority. Under SGMA, local agencies must work together and with groundwater users to develop local groundwater sustainability plans that would guide decisions affecting groundwater use and fees.

The intent is to provide for longterm — or sustainable — supplies of groundwater. State officials would prefer that local agencies manage water use, but are prepared to step in and do it for them if no action is taken.

Water managers and others across the state would prefer to retain control over their own water rather than ceding authority to the sate.

Woodland falls under the Yolo Groundwater Authority, which has been in formation over the past year and involves farmers, irrigation districts, the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District and the countywide Water Resources Association.

On Tuesday, the Woodland City Council received an update from Public Works Director Greg Meyer, who has been representing the city on the Yolo management agency. Meyer is hoping to bring a final joint powers authority document back to the council sometime in next two months, with the goal of formally establishing the Yolo Subbasin Groundwater Authority prior to the June 30 deadline.

Joining the agency is critical, Meyer told the council if it expects to be able to withdraw water from beneath the city in the future. The city’s new $145 million Woodland-Davis Surface Water Project included the installation of stations to pump surplus water back into the aquifer for future use in order to provide a “water bank” of sorts into the future.

Meetings have been held for the last several months by the Yolo County Farm Bureau and Water Resources Association to brief farmers and others about the new regulations. February meetings, for example, laid out the goals of the Groundwater Authority as well as the necessity of maintaining local control along with subsidence problems caused by farmers withdrawing too much water from drought-depleted reserves.

Jack Rice, an associate counsel for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said many county farm bureaus are actively working with local agencies in the GSA development process, which he described as “the foundation for compliance” with state groundwater law.

“It is very important for farmers and ranchers to participate in shaping what these agencies will look like,” he said. “In many areas, county Farm Bureaus are doing a very good job providing the voice for agriculture in the process to develop groundwater sustainability agencies.”

The Yolo County agency is considered a leader in the state due to the decade-long history of the Water Resources Association which already had water-use agreements in place.

Nearby Butte County has a number of sub-basins, and Butte County Farm Bureau President Clark Becker said the county will have multiple groundwater agencies, perhaps as many as six that would be working together.

“It’s pretty complex in our county, but we have things structured well and everybody is on the same page. But there is a little fear,” Becker said, noting that despite a good relationship with county water staff, the issue involves water rights, “so there’s a lot of apprehension.”

Meyer told the Woodland council there has been good cooperation among the members of the Yolo group, who are now working on setting fees, affiliate membership qualifications and voting rights.

“These are all issues which will require some effort on the part of the members to deal with,” Meyer said.

Nonetheless, the agency and Meyer himself drew praise from the council, who hope to be able to retain control of the water being pumped back beneath the city.

“This is a sea-change in California,” Councilman Tom Stallard said of the groundwater management concept, adding that Woodland is the only agency in the county that is actually injecting water back underground.

Councilman Skip Davies agreed, noting that the city needs to be on guard to make sure the “water stays local … It comes down to whether you want to manage your basin locally or have the state manage it for you and we’re better off” managing it locally.

Expressing concern about the costs of forming a joint powers authority under the water agency, Councilman Enrique Fernandez worried that the money would be split evenly between urban residents and farmers. He said farmers use 70 percent of the water compared to urban residents who use 30 percent, implying that city residents should pay less.

Meyer said the percentage was more like 93 percent vs. 7 percent, but agreed, noting it was one reason Woodland is involved in the fledgling agency.

Another factor, councilmembers noted was that when the agency is fully operational, Woodland will be drawing off a “positive” water balance due to the recharging of its aquifer, while those in rural areas will be tapping into a “negative” balance.

The California Farm Bureau Federation’s Ag Alert writer, Christine Souza, contributed to this story.