Water is the one of the most debated resources within the state and can lead to a number of discussions. How much water is available? How should it be dispersed? Does ag really receive 80 percent of the water supply? I’ll save the breakdown of water for a later discussion as that is an entire article alone.
Attention should be brought to a legislative action concerning our groundwater basins. Enacted in 2014, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires that our groundwater basins come into sustainable compliance by 2040 or 2042. The date of compliance is dependent on a ruling by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). Sub-basins that are critically over-drafted are under the 2040 deadline while those not deemed critical have an additional two years to comply.
Sub-basin boundary lines do not follow the lines of county boundaries and therefore, Merced County rests atop four groundwater sub-basins. They are Turlock to the north, Chowchilla to the south, Delta-Mendota covering the west, and Merced encompassing most of the east side. Three of the four, Merced, Delta-Mendota and Chowchilla, are all considered to be critically over-drafted through the DWR ruling.
Since the requirement became law, irrigation districts, counties and other public agencies have been in discussions on how this will look moving forward. Each of the above are able to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency or GSA, allowing them to form the Groundwater Management Plan that is required to be in place by 2020 or 2022. All parties want to show sustainability, yet the question that remains is how it will be achieved and the amount of water that will be available. This plan, also known as the GSP, will be the largest hurdle in this process. It should also be stated that if a sub-basin does not show sustainability, Department of Water Resources officials will become controllers of the sub-basin.
This will undoubtedly affect our local agricultural community and others like it throughout the state. Farmers may choose particular crops or lay more ground fallow, as we witnessed during the recent multi-year drought. We have also been an observer of forward thinking through a number of groundwater recharge projects within our county.
While agriculture is the obvious party affected, other industries and communities will not be exempt. This will play a large part in altering the landscape for growing cities and counties, as the availability of water will be drastically different than we have seen in recent years. The recharge and sustainability of our sub-basins is an “all hands on deck” situation and it will require the efforts of all of us, agriculture, municipalities, community services districts, etc., to ensure its viability.
Breanne Ramos is executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau.