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TID, local agencies show unified effort towards groundwater act compliance
fields drought
Local agencies are working towards creating a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Turlock Subbasin. - photo by Photo Contributed

Turlock Irrigation District took one of the first steps towards Sustainable Groundwater Management Act compliance on Tuesday by joining other local agencies in the Turlock Groundwater Basin Association in executing a Memorandum of Understanding that details the need to work together in order to meet the new requirements.

 “Since the signing into law of the SGMA last year, there has been no shortage of productive conservations among those of us in the Turlock Subbasin regarding groundwater management,” said water resources analyst Herb Smart.

“In that time, TID itself has initiated and conducted no less than 17 one-on-one agency to agency meetings with different local agencies within the Subbasin. Those are just the formal meetings,” continued Smart.

As a founding member of the Turlock Groundwater Basin Association, TID has helped progress the discussions related to SGMA compliance, as well as those regarding coordinating and communicating groundwater management activities, at monthly meetings.

Smart said that since SGMA was signed into law, conversations within the Subbasin regarding groundwater management and groundwater act compliance have increased in timing, magnitude and duration.

“A general consensus on some aspects of SGMA compliance is starting to build,” said Smart. “However, the TGBA’s existing MOU, which was adopted by the TID Board of Directors in 2001 and other agencies around that time, obviously doesn’t address SGMA.

 “The Post-SGMA MOU fills that need while not altering any provisions of the existing MOU,” said Smart.

The Post-SGMA does not alter any provisions of the existing TGBA MOU; rather it was developed to build upon the language of the existing MOU with a better reflection of actions that will need to be undertaken by local agencies in the Subbasin in response to the requirements of SGMA.

Smart said that there are three key highlights of the Post-SGMA MOU, one of which is a provision that states that the ultimate governance structure for the Turlock Subbasin is yet to be determined, however, parties of the MOU will strive to seek formation of groundwater governance prior to SGMA deadlines.

“It basically says that at this time, we know we want to comply with GSA deadlines, but we are unsure of what format that will take,” said Smart. “Getting all of the agencies to agree on a new governing structure and how you regulate groundwater at the local level is going to take a lot of conversations and concurrence.”

Another key highlight of the Post-SGMA MOU is the provision that a single Groundwater Sustainability Plan is the preferred planning tool to implement SGMA-compliant groundwater management. Smart said that one plan appears to be the general consensus at different agency meetings, although there are options to implement multiple plans.

“I hope we don’t just look inside our service territory,” said Director Michael Frantz, who commended Smart on taking a leading role. “I’m happy to hear you say that you think that a single basin-wide plan is the best approach and I hope we can continue to woo others around us to come on board and make the plan in such a way that is inclusive.”

The third key highlight of the Post-SGMA MOU is the provision that certain tools regarding groundwater data and modeling will need to be discussed and developed prior to governance formation and GSP creation.

“The MOU discusses the need to work on tools such as data and modeling during the figuring out of GSA structures and GSP components so that when we get up to the point where we are actually implementing a GSP, we are not looking to create those tools then,” said Smart. 

Smart said that there are multiple benefits of the Post-SGMA MOU, including an initial victory for local agencies charged with SGMA compliance, as well as the provision of additional support to water agencies within the Turlock Subbasin as they advocate on behalf of Turlock Subbasin groundwater management at the local, county and state levels.

“It also demonstrates the collective will of local agencies to comply with SGMA and meet SGMA deadlines,” said Smart. “It also is not legally binding and does not bring any additional financial commitment to the District.”

SGMA, which took effect earlier this year, requires the formation of local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies covering the Turlock Subbasin before June 30, 2017 to avoid probationary state intervention. The GSAs are to be formed by local public agencies that have water supply, water management, or land-use responsibilities within a groundwater basin.

SGMA also requires the GSAs—once established—to develop and adopt a Groundwater Sustainability Plan or multiple coordinated GSPs covering the entire Subbasin prior to Jan. 31, 2022. If the GSA fails to meet this deadline, the Subbasin will be subject to state intervention measures.

 Furthermore, the Subbasin can also be subject to state intervention after plan adoption if plans are deemed inadequate or are not being implemented in a manner likely to achieve the groundwater sustainability goals outlined in the GSP.

The California Department of Water Resources, in consultation with the State Water Resources Control Board, is charged with implementing SGMA and is required by law to develop a series of regulations and documents to aid local agencies in complying with SGMA.

DWR is responsible for developing GSP regulations before June 1, 2016 that will be used to evaluate GSP submittals and GSP implementation. For GSAs, SGMA compliance will consist of adhering to SGMA statutes and complying with regulations developed and implemented by DWR.

Smart said that the Turlock Groundwater Basin Association is currently developing materials for a public workshop in October, although details are still in the process of being finalized. During this meeting, TGBA hopes to educate the public about SGMA and its requirements, as well as encourage them to assume an active role in the entire groundwater act process.