A community meeting on Oct. 26 about implementation of new groundwater law for a local groundwater basin that includes Galt and the surrounding area failed to lure residents who may be impacted by the recently passed sustainability law.
The meeting only had thee members of the general public attend.
It was conducted by Tom Gohring, executive director of the Water Forum, a private and public consortium formed in 2000 to protect Sacramento region water resources.
Gohring had bad news and good news about the 2015 State Groundwater Management Act.
“This law could result in limits in groundwater pumping in this basin or any of 157 basins in California,” Gohring said. “It could result in the state of California, specifically the State Water Resources Control Board, stepping in and becoming the manager of your wells.”
Gohring said that the good news was that the local agencies, including the city of Galt and surrounding water districts, are already taking steps to make sure that the state does not intervene.
“They will be doing everything they can to make sure any decisions about limiting pumping, or fees for pumping, happen here at the local level, at your local district,” Gohring said.
Gohring said the new law could very well result in additional costs to residents if local districts need to raise money.
“But it will be your local board members, who will be making these decisions. And you will have access to them,” Gohring said.
Gohring said the state Water Resources Department established boundaries for the Cosumnes Subbasin. Seven agencies make up the Cosumnes Basin Working Group – the city of Galt, Sloughhouse Resource Conservation District, Omochumne-Hartnell, the Galt and Clay irrigation districts, the lower part of Amador County and a small section of unincorporated Sacramento County. All seven met the state law’s requirements to become ground water sustainable agencies (GSAs) by the June 30 deadline.
A large area in the west part of the basin was not included in existing water districts. Sacramento County stepped in to give that area representation as a ground water sustainable agency.
“The next big threshold is this basin needs to create a plan, a groundwater sustainability plan by January 2022,” Gohring said. “Then, whatever your plan says you are going to do, you are required to do it by 2042.”
Gohring showed a slide illustrating Sacramento Valley ground water reserves were dramatically better than Tulare Basin in Kern County where land is sinking and water is contaminated.
“I am confident the basin (Cosumnes Basin) is in good shape, but the plan has to be done,” Gohring responded.
Gohring said the new law requires involvement of three agencies. First is California Department of Resources, which is the measuring stick that renders an opinion about the adequacy of basin plans.
“The agency you most need to be concerned with is the State Water Resources Board. They are the hammer. If certain provisions of the law aren’t met, they can intervene and put a basin on probation.
“Then, there is your local agency. That is where the rubber meets the road. They are folks who get to design what sustainability means for this basin,” Gohring said.
Demonstrating sustainability in the plan will require some very complex science. It also will require considerable cooperation among the seven agencies involved.
“We are trying to use a method called joint fact finding rather than having different entities hire their own experts that argue with each other,” Gohring said. “We are trying to reduce the costs by having this done in an open and transparent way.”
Another challenge for the working group is dealing with an unfunded mandate from the state. Gohring said planning could cost between $2 and $3 million, and the group has already applied for a state grant of up to $1 million.
Gohring showed a pie chart slide that revealed that, even if Cosumnes Basin gets the full grant, it will cover only 37 percent of the cost. The other percentages are: Water Forum, 30; existing state grant, 2 percent; city of Galt, 4; Sacramento County, 18; and the five local agencies, 9.
“What does this 4 percent of $2 to $3 million dollars mean for you,” Gohring asked. “It means your local agency may be able to use their existing funds to pay for it. It may also mean they have to come to you and ask for money.”
Gohring asked Julie Golomb, a member of the Consensus Building Institute who is working with the Water Forum, to explain how residents could get involved. She encouraged audience members to sign up at www.cosumnes.waterforum.org to receive updates. She also noted that everyone who listed their email on the meeting signup sheet would be added to the contact list.
Golomb said all working group meetings are open to the public, with their comments welcome. Upcoming meetings and meeting summaries are posted to the website, and draft documents will be available for public review and comment. Periodic workshops will be held throughout the planning effort.