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B.V. ag urged to plan for its water usage

The Intermountain News of Burney, California

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The veil on future groundwater management in the Big Valley Basin was lifted during a meeting Monday night at Adin Community Center.

Tom Harter, University of California Davis groundwater hydrologist, spent nearly two hours discussing the state's drought history, water patterns and the year-old law that regulates California's 515 groundwater basins.

"Ugly deal coming before us," Aaron Albaugh, Lassen County Supervisor, told the nearly 75 attendees. "Hopefully, we'll get some answers tonight."

The severity of the current four-year drought was last seen in the 1920s and 1930s when there was nearly no rain during drought years. The current groundwater problem is more severe than the early 20th Century drought cycles because stakeholders "didn't have turbines pumping ground water," Harter said.

High consumption of groundwater in the Big Valley agricultural basin is the reason California Department of Water Resources classified this large geographical area a "high priority basin." The basin encompasses property located in both Modoc and Lassen counties.

High priority designation requires residential stakeholders to establish a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) that is operating by June 30, 2017.

The GSA must develop and receive state approval for a 20-to 50-year basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) byJan.31, 2020.

This local agency is responsible for managing the plan to assure the ground water does not go below 2015's lowest level.

Failure to create an approved plan invites the State of California to "organize and manage local groundwater," said Ned Coe, chairman of the Modoc County Groundwater Resources Advisory Committee, during introductory comments.

A local GSA with an approved plan has the flexibility to consider multiple groundwater recharging options such as capturing winter storm runoff and winter time water management in wheat fields, a crop that does not create undesirable ground water.

Coe warned stakeholders that state management of a groundwater basin is focused only on reducing their water consumption.

"DWR leadership is very open," Harter said. The agency "made an outstanding effort to talk to groups and individuals" when developing new rules and regulations.

State regulations will be issued within nine months.

GSA could be a new special district. Harter recommended selecting an existing agency because of the complex county and state processes for creating special districts. However, no relevant special districts operate in Big Valley, it was noted.

GSA has legal authority "to raise fees, raise taxes and regulate (groundwater) pumping," Harter said.

The agency responsibilities include collecting groundwater recharging and consumption data, monitor water consumption, organize and communicate groundwater data to stakeholders, and engage stakeholders in developing and managing the ground water sustainability plan.

Harter said facilitating the communication process is the most important immediate task for the Big Valley Basin GSA. State grants are available for GSA to employ consultants to facilitate the communication process.

According to Geri Byrne, Modoc County supervisor, selection of GSA members or an agency is undecided.

Regarding the GSP, the GSA has to determine all Big Valley Basin ground water recharging sources which are unknown because of the volcanic rock and hard pan soil. Compounding the identification process, ground water can flow for 5 to 15 miles from its original source in volcanic rock beds, Harter said.

The GSP must preclude undesirable results such as chronic lowering of water level, surface water depletion and degradation of water quality.

Harter said one effect of the new groundwater regulation could be Big Valley stakeholders with deeper wells may need to pay for stakeholders whose wells are not so deep.

The law's intent is for "groundwater to be safe, healthy and abundant for future generations, Harter said.

Copyright 2015 The Intermountain News, Burney, California. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015

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