If you’re worried about your well going dry and who will pay to drill deeper, or about your community having enough safe and clean water, or about your farm’s ability to irrigate, this information is for you.

Groundwater in the Madera area is a primary source of irrigation water for a $2 billion agricultural industry and the drinking water for more than 150,000 residents in the county.

After decades of new and deeper wells, degraded water quality and groundwater level declines, residents in the area have a chance to influence how local groundwater will be managed and used for decades to come — and the deadline to participate is quickly approaching.

What is the Madera Groundwater Sustainability Plan?

The state Department of Water Resources is accepting public comments on proposed Groundwater Sustainability Plans for the Madera basin until Dec. 23. This is the second public comment period, as comments were accepted last year following a series of public meetings in 2019.

While state officials do not have to respond to public comments, residents’ concerns and comments will be considered while the plans are being reviewed for approval, according to DWR outreach materials.

The plans were written by local groundwater sustainability agencies and are intended to identify solutions and projects to better manage groundwater for all users, including agriculture, municipalities and residents, by 2040.

There are four plans in the Madera subbasin of the San Joaquin Valley. The plan covering the largest area calls for water levels to continue to decline to maintain pumping for irrigated agriculture.

The plan states that decision would protect the ag-based economy and thousands of related jobs, but would also cause some domestic wells to fail because the water level will fall below the level of well pumps. It could also cause degraded water quality and affect local ecology, like plants and animals that depend on groundwater.

It proposes a well mitigation program to help pay for new wells, funded by fees on water users. Madera County leaders are also exploring a groundwater allocation policy, which would limit some pumpers to a maximum amount of extraction each year.

The plan also identifies projects estimated to generate more than 200,000 acre-feet a year, by focusing on activities like groundwater recharge, purchasing water from elsewhere and efforts to reduce evaporation and groundwater pumping

How do I comment on groundwater sustainability plans?

California Department of Water Resources officials have the ability to reject or approve the plan, or to require adjustments. Relevant public comments will be considered.

Joyia Emard, a spokesperson for the Department of Water Resources, said all comments are valuable, but she offered tips on the comments that would be most helpful.

“Comments that describe how local water and/or the community will be impacted are important,” Emard told The Fresno Bee. “If possible, it is recommended that the individual or group commenting mention the part of the plan they are commenting on and how it will impact them. It is also good to include supporting information if it is available.”

  • Find out what subbasin you live in by typing your address in this map: gis.water.ca.gov/app/bbat.
  • Read proposed Groundwater Sustainability Plans and submit comments here: sgma.water.ca.gov/portal/gsp/all.
  • Find the plan that affects you and click on the blue comment button under the “Action” column and click “Add Comment.”

  • If you live in the Madera area, view the “Madera Subbasin Joint GSP,” scroll down to “Plan Contents” and click on “Groundwater Sustainability Plan.”

The Madera plan is over 3,000 pages long and may be difficult to digest. Read the executive summary, scan the table of contents to find what topics might be relevant to you, or use a keyword search to explore the document.

You can also contact Stephanie Anagnoson, director of the Madera County Water and Natural Resources Department at 559-662-8015.

Why does SGMA matter to private wells?

Local officials are required to create groundwater sustainability plans after passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, a state law adopted in 2014 when groundwater levels in some areas were quickly declining as a result of overpumping, cuts to surface water deliveries and persistent drought conditions.

Water users in groundwater basins with water levels that have dropped significantly are required to work together to manage local groundwater resources and identify solutions that will lead to sustainability by 2040, and then maintain balanced groundwater use through 2090.

While the plans are long-term, the need for planning has been identified as urgent.

While private well owners use very little water compared to farmers or cities, the pace at which other pumpers are required to reduce groundwater extraction will affect current and future groundwater levels.

“We’re living in drought-like conditions right now and we can’t really afford to not take care of our groundwater,” said Leslie Martinez, policy advocate for Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, who works as an advocate for residential water users in Madera County.

She urged people on private wells to become aware of the process.

“If you want to take care of your well, part of it is becoming really active in your groundwater sustainability agency,” Martinez said during a recent webinar for private well owners.

“Find out, who is your local groundwater sustainability agency?” she said. “Who is out there helping manage the groundwater around you? And, what are the programs out there?”

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