Is a Moratorium on Water Well Drilling Coming?

I was speaking with a pump contractor the other day about some changes that are coming to our industry. He said these new laws are going to mean more work because flow meters are going to be required at the wellhead.

There are many new and ongoing programs that affect our industry, such as, the Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP), California Water Action Plan, WaterFix, Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), OSWCR (Online System for Well Completion Reports), Infrastructure Improvement of the Nation (WIIN), Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Act (Prop 1), Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM), as well as, others.

All are important but in this haystack of programs is not just a needle, there is a Samurai Sword buried really deep which will have a profound effect on our local industry.

My business activity (much like yours) is mostly located within the Kings groundwater region (Kings Subbasin) which includes Fresno County and southward. The two primary sources of surface water for the subbasin are the Kings River and the San Joaquin River. Water from these two rivers (surface water sources) are often not sufficient to meet the irrigation needs in the Kings Subbasin. Therefore, the water demand for our region has been managed through conjunctive use, which is the combined use of surface water and groundwater supplies / storage.

Due to frequent insufficient surface water supplies, the Kings Subbasin has been operating in an overdraft condition for many years, with an average annual overdraft of approximately 100,000 to 150,000 acre-feet. More groundwater is being removed from the Kings Subbasin than is being replaced.

Tulare Basin on this graph includes land from Fresno County to Kern County (which also includes the Kings Subbasin). The San Joaquin Basin on this graph is Madera County north.

Tulare Basin on this graph includes land from Fresno County to Kern County (which also includes the Kings Subbasin). The San Joaquin Basin on this graph is Madera County north.

The combination of groundwater overdraft and the recent drought resulted in Governor Brown signing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in 2014 which has since identified the Kings Subbasin as number 9 of 21 basins “subject to critical conditions of overdraft”. 

GSA is a Groundwater Sustainability Agency which will most likely be the local irrigation district. GSAs are still in the formation stage but will be formalized by June 1, 2017. The GSA will have no choice but to reduce pumping rates by taking ag wells off line if the groundwater table is not stabilizing fast enough for SGMA.

GSA is a Groundwater Sustainability Agency which will most likely be the local irrigation district. GSAs are still in the formation stage but will be formalized by June 1, 2017.

The GSA will have no choice but to reduce pumping rates by taking ag wells off line if the groundwater table is not stabilizing fast enough for SGMA.

Without finding additional surface water sources for groundwater recharge, SGMA has some big teeth. Buried deep in the law (or at least the intent of the law) drilling of new groundwater wells may be prohibited or heavily restricted in the future. In addition, existing wells may be taken off line by executive order if the groundwater table does not stabilize. Another interesting fact is "if adverse impacts of overdraft are reported in a portion of a groundwater basin, then the adverse impact is assigned to the entire basin for classification purposes".

The result of all this forced action will be many more acres of fallow farmland and greater poverty in the Central Valley.

Watch this 3 minute video about the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and see how it will affect future water well production in the San Joaquin Valley. Listen how they struggle while answering the questions.

There are more interesting water issues that I will be adding to my blog in the near future. I will keep you apprised of future posts.

Tom Krazan

KingsRiverDrilling@gmail.com