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Grants to help stressed groundwater basins
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The California Department of Water Resources has awarded $6.7 million to 21 counties, including Stanislaus County, to help with sustainable groundwater planning.

The Proposition 1 Sustainable Groundwater Planning Grant Program provides funding for county projects that will develop groundwater plans consistent with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act enacted by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. in 2014. The awards were made to counties with high and medium priority groundwater basins, some of which are in critical over-draft.

The department received 23 grant applications requesting a total of approximately $7 million. Adding the matching funds provided by the grant award recipients, approximately $13 million will be dedicated to projects in counties that need to begin long-term planning for sustainable groundwater management. According to Laura McLean, Senior Engineering Geologist with the Sustainable Groundwater Planning Grant Program, DWR gave priority to proposals that will benefit disadvantaged communities, address critically over drafted basins, address basins exhibiting stressed conditions, and proposals to enact ordinances to address groundwater sustainability.

“This funding will help counties address long-term planning goals, better understand what’s coming in and going out of their aquifers, and get the much- needed jumpstart on addressing the new regulations,” says McLean. “More funding will certainly become available to help groundwater sustainability agencies moving forward. We aim to complement the timeline requirements of the law as we continue to streamline our grant processes to get the money out as quickly as possible.”

Stanislaus County was awarded $250,000 for the Programmatic Environmental Impact Report for Implementation of the Stanislaus County Groundwater Ordinance. 

Stanislaus County is underlain by four groundwater basins. One of the basins has already been deemed by the water department as critically over drafted and another has been proposed for the list of critically over drafted. The remaining two basins are each experiencing stresses from the ongoing drought, including storage depletion, according to the county’s grant application. Stanislaus County was the first county in California to adopt a Groundwater Ordinance. The Ordinance was adopted in November 2014, and codifies requirements, prohibitions, and exemptions intended to assure sustainable groundwater extraction as a condition for permitting new wells. Implementation guidelines for well permitting under the new Ordinance were adopted in August 2015.

The Programmatic EIR seeks to streamline the application and review process for new well permits, develop a more robust basis for managing this program, and build a foundation for the development of Groundwater Sustainability Plans.

“It is intended that the PEIR will provide multiple benefits for all parties and will promote the achievement of sustainable groundwater management throughout the county,” said Stanislaus County Water Resources Manager Walter Ward. “The results of this analysis will not only serve as a basis to refine and streamline the water well construction permitting program, but will also provide valuable data that will be useful for county-wide groundwater management activities that will directly inform all local groundwater stakeholders (Cities and Irrigation Districts) in the creation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and development of Groundwater Sustainability Plans as required under state law pursuant to SGMA.”

The total project is estimated at $585,000.

The funding from the water department provides the means for local communities to create long-term sustainable groundwater management plans for California’s groundwater basins. On average, groundwater makes up over one-third of California’s water supply and over one-half of the supply during drought years. When groundwater basins are critically over drafted, chronically lowered groundwater levels, seawater intrusion, and land subsidence can result.