University of California

Presentations 2016

Schmidt, Kirk

Presentation Title
California Groundwater Management - the 21st Century Gordian Knot
Central Coast Water Quality Preservation, Inc.
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Short deadlines and historic local conflicts make formation of a Groundwater Management Agency (GMA) and adoption of a Groundwater Management Plan a mirage for many under California’s new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Success is determined by a 2020 plan submittal mandate, one that may only be possible with cooperative and compatible local agencies and objectives.Why? The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, one of 15 state special districts that were already tasked with managing critically overdrafted basins in California prior to the new SGMA legislation, has accomplished this daunting task. Their experience demonstrates that it takes two years and $500,000, plus existing staff time, to “revise” an existing plan and 18 months and $500,000 to devise and adopt a financing scheme, required environmental studies, and hold a rate-setting election. PVWMA’s prior experience, including a number of precedence-setting legal challenges, shows all of these steps need both be focused on a realistic basin plan and equally on the rate-setting benefits analysis.Local conflicts in San Luis Obispo, San Joaquin County and the Salinas Valley may cause both the formation and plan deadlines to be missed. There are three parts to this problem: 1) part of the problem is inherent in the state’s definition of a high priority basin; 2) non-compatible local objectives whether urban versus agriculture, or county versus irrigation district versus cities. Furthermore, the SGMA specifically claims not to alter existing property rights and the alternative of adjudication mean that some participants may exercise greater sway in formation and planning; 3) no funding -you need a GMA to write a plan, which will require money, you need money to first evaluate and then run a GMA. How do you structure a “benefits analysis” for a mere agency without an idea of the plan? Again, money is needed to implement the plan. Three times to the well may be two too many for some taxpayers. After all what is the downside to not completing the plan? The county or state takes over the basin, and they also have no taxing authority so, from the perspective of some taxpayers there is no downside to failure. Placing meters on wells is an apostate to many farmers. Very few agricultural wells in California are metered. PVWMA metered all large groundwater wells (pumping more than 10 acre feet per year) in 1994 and began charging a fee to pumpers to fund the cost of managing the basin. This will be an affront to some farmers – a notoriously self-reliant independent group.The Gordian Knot was a tightly wound ball of rope with no beginning or end visible to the observer. No one was able to untie it, so failed the test. Alexander the Great was confronted by the unsolvable riddle, analyzed it for a moment, then drew his sword and cut the knot in half. Problem solved. It is not certain if California can devise such a clean solution to the dilemma created by the SGMA.

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