As the Executive Director of the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority, I want to provide an update on recent developments concerning our region’s Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) and our efforts to create a sustainable groundwater system in our region.

We were responsible for submitting a GSP that was one of six plans for the larger Subbasin, which encompasses the region from San Joaquin/Stanislaus County lines in the north to Tranquility in the south. The Department of Water Resources did not review our plan by itself.

Instead, they evaluated the entire Subbasin as one overall plan and found the collection of GSPs to be inadequate. This was due to the fact that they contained inconsistent findings and varied too widely in methodologies and groundwater strategies.

As a result, we are taking several steps to address their findings and rectify the situation. First, we have developed an Executive Committee to meet with the State Water Board staff to understand how to correct the deficiencies.

Second, we have hired a consultant to standardize the methodologies and findings within our Subbasin’s multiple plans.

Third, we are scheduling meetings with the State Water Board and will be involved in an iterative process with them to come to a resolution over the upcoming months.

We have a long history of managing groundwater within the Exchange Contractors’ boundaries and have worked proactively with the communities of Mendota, Firebaugh, Dos Palos, Los Banos, Gustine and Newman in jointly managing groundwater sustainability with these partners.

Our groundwater management began in the early 1950s when the districts began drilling wells to supplement groundwater supplies. Due to the reliable water supply provided in our region under the Exchange Contract, our service area is not in a state of overdraft.

Based on our in-depth knowledge of the local groundwater aquifers surrounding our communities, we have jointly identified projects in our GSP to support our joint reliance on this resource.

It is important to note that if our plans continue to be found inadequate, the Subbasin will be put on probationary status for one year to fix the deficiencies. During this time, the current groundwater management policies will remain the same as they have historically.

If the deficiencies are not fixed after one year, the State Water Board can adopt its own plan to manage the Subbasin and impose their own strategies to manage groundwater.

We are working diligently to bring the entire basin into compliance so we can avoid additional costs being imposed on water users, including the potential for the State Water Board to charge a fee on groundwater pumping. Our current understanding is that the State Board will not charge a groundwater pumping fee during the one-year probationary period.

We understand that there is concern about the impact this will have on pumping in our region. The State Board has indicated that we will continue to operate under our current programs even during a potential year probationary status. However, if the State Board must adopt its own plan, everyone will be subject to restrictions imposed by the State Board.

As growers, we must have a renewed sense of urgency to achieve sustainability over the next year. We expect some limitations on groundwater pumping to occur in the Subbasin.

The Exchange Contractors are not in a state of overdraft, and we will be pursuing consistent standards across the Subbasin to provide the flexibility we need to farm during Shasta-critical years.

Our priorities are to achieve or maintain sustainability for our local farms and our communities and come into harmony with the other GSPs in our Subbasin. We are working closely with our partner organizations within our Subbasin to forge a resolution.

We’ll continue to update the public in the coming months about the progress that’s been made, along with any potential impacts it could have on water users in our region.

Chris White

Executive director. San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority