California water officials have recommended placing several San Joaquin Valley groundwater agencies on probation due to their failure to produce effective strategies to prevent excessive groundwater pumping. According to an extensive report by CalMatters, the Tulare Lake groundwater basin, vital for residents, dairies, and large farming tracts, is currently in a critically overdrafted condition. This has resulted in dried-up wells and subsiding land. This move by the state officials comes after the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act which mandated each basin to formulate plans to control groundwater over-extraction.
The recommendation is not the final verdict for this predominantly agricultural area in Kings County. Before making a decision next April, the State Water Resources Control Board will gather public feedback and conduct workshops. The local groundwater agencies had been warned in 2021 that their submitted plans were insufficient to safeguard the basin.
Being placed on probation could have ramifications for groundwater users. Larger users might need to disclose their water usage, face potential charges, and may even need to install measurement equipment. The overarching objective of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is to stabilize critically overused aquifers by 2040. The act also mandates that other basins of significant priority should achieve this balance by 2042.
Groundwater overdraft has had detrimental impacts on local residents and infrastructure. In case local agencies are unable to devise a feasible plan after an extended probationary period, the State Water Board can draft and implement its interim plan for groundwater management. Environmental justice organizations argue that delays in this process harm communities, particularly communities of color, as they face water shortages and degrading groundwater quality. Recent research indicates that despite state regulations, a significant number of wells in the Central Valley might still fail, posing considerable challenges ahead.
PDF link: TULARE LAKE SUBBASIN PROBATIONARY HEARING DRAFT STAFF REPORT, October 2023