Water & Drought

Valley counties receive money for water studies

Signs like this one dot the landscape of western Fresno County, where county officials got a grant to improve understanding of nearby aquifers to meet the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The new law, which takes effect in 2020, will require local communities to know how much groundwater they have available before overdraft occurs.
Signs like this one dot the landscape of western Fresno County, where county officials got a grant to improve understanding of nearby aquifers to meet the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The new law, which takes effect in 2020, will require local communities to know how much groundwater they have available before overdraft occurs. rbenton@sacbee.com

Four central San Joaquin Valley counties have been awarded state grants to improve their understanding of underground water so they can prepare for a state law that takes effect in four years.

Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera counties each will get $500,000 in Proposition 1 funding set aside for local governments to adhere to guidelines of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

The money will help local governments undertake projects in cooperation with other agencies to bring their basins into balance and make them sustainable long term, said Lauren Bisnett, the Sacramento-based information officer for the state’s program overseeing the groundwater management act program.

Under the law, she said, the state wants local management of groundwater. Initially, she said, local agencies will join together and develop plans to reduce overdraft and use only established amounts of groundwater available in each county.

Overall, 21 counties got $6.7 million in funding; and $500,000 was the maximum available per grant.

The state Department of Water Resources gave priority to proposals that benefit disadvantaged communities, such as those in the San Joaquin Valley. The grants will address basins that are critically overdrafted or showing stressed conditions.

“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 jump start on addressing the new regulations,” Laura McLean, a senior engineering geologist with the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Planning Grant Program, said in a prepared statement.

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 jump start on addressing the new regulations.

Laura McLean, senior engineering geologist with the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Planning Grant Program

In Fresno County, the grant will be used to evaluate groundwater in a 100-square-mile rectangular area running northwest from a few miles west of Riverdale to an area west of San Joaquin along the boundary of the Kings River sub-basin and Westside groundwater sub-basin.

Private well owners will be asked to participate in Fresno County’s program by allowing monitoring wells to be drilled at different depths along the boundary. The grant will pay for up to eight new wells where water levels can be monitored and groundwater tested. Benchmarks will be established to ensure the monitoring is accurate, and land subsidence also will be evaluated in the area, which is known for sinking.

By installing wells, Fresno County water officials will learn how aquifers interact with one another, said Gary Serrato, general manager of the Fresno Irrigation District, an agency that relies on Kings River water.

“Between each groundwater sustainability area and each basin, we will track and collect data,” he said.

Information gathered will allow Fresno County and its local water agencies to begin carrying out the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act when it becomes law, Serrato said.

Kings County joined with 15 other agencies to develop a groundwater basin model for the overdrafted Tulare Lake sub-basin. It will create a road map for its groundwater sustainability agency and meet the state’s rules when they go into effect.

Madera County will address its overdraft issues by dividing the Valley portion of the county into two regions. One covers the Madera sub-basin, which includes seven county, city and water agencies. A second region will cover the Chowchilla sub-basin.

Tulare County will focus on its Kaweah and Tule rivers sub-basins. The county plans to establish relationships with other local governments and districts to find ways to manage groundwater, identify information gaps and prepare a baseline for sustainable yield for the basins.

Tulare County will use another $161,000 in a local match to complete its project. The state grants will pay the entire cost of the projects in the other three counties.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin

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