City prepares for changes in groundwater use
By Chris Frost
Oxnard— The Oxnard City Council discussed its water future in detail during the Jan. 15 Oxnard City Council meeting as the group learned about how it may allocate groundwater over the next 20 years.
The group learned that it needs to make some adjustments and use less water moving forward, which will be a challenge.
Assistant City Attorney Khiri Klima made the presentation and said the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency’s (GMA) groundwater allocation ordinance would significantly affect the city’s groundwater pumping for the next 20 years.
“It is scheduled to be adopted on Jan. 23,” she said. “Staff has been involved with this for a few years, and we thought it was time for a public update because this will affect the city.”
Over half of the city’s potable water supply is groundwater, she said, and it pumps 20 percent of its groundwater from the Oxnard/Pleasant Valley (OPV) sub-basin management area. As the jurisdiction with the largest area, the city is the largest pumper.
“Due to state law, the amount of water that will be pumped over the next 20 years will need to be decreased by almost half,” Klima said. “The Oxnard basin currently pumps about 100,000 acre-feet a year by all the users collectively, and by 2040, we are going to need to go down collectively to about 60-65,000 acre-feet. As a result, all of the pumpers are in ongoing negotiation over the water allocations.”
If the city’s groundwater pumping allocation gets reduced, she said it will import water, which costs approximately two times more than pumping groundwater. Consequently, costs are likely to increase over time because of the California Water Fix Project which is building two tunnels to transport water from the Sacramento San Joaquin River to Southern California which will cost that region $11 billion.
“Our groundwater allocation matters and will be more affordable,” she said. “Imported water may become unavailable in an emergency if a pipeline bursts or we have a local earthquake or there is a levee failure in the Bay area.”
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)was passed in 2014 and under that law, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) had to identify basins that were significantly over drafted, she said, with a high or medium priority. Those basins require a sustainability plan be in place by 2020, and according to the DWR, the Oxnard and Pleasant Valley Basins are a high priority and in states of critical overdraft.
“That means we have to get in place a groundwater sustainability plan one year from now,” she said. “SGMA requires that plan to be in place by 2020.”
The basin has 20 years to develop a “sustainable yield” and have a maximum quantity of water that it can withdraw without an undesirable result, she said, and in the OPV Basin, a sustainable yield is currently 60 to 65 percent of its current use and all the users, not just Oxnard, are overpumping that basin.
“SGMA is intended for groundwater management, not determining groundwater rights, and our basins are not adjudicated,” Klima said. “What that means is that no judge has determined who has what water rights in these basins. That hasn’t been litigated yet. However, the GSP (groundwater sustainability plan) is expected to restrict each producer’s ability to produce groundwater without paying an assessment. It’s going to increase costs for overpumping, and the GSP may impose pumping restrictions, so an entity that feels it is overregulated by the GMA may opt to file for an adjudication, which may lead to a costly and lengthy legal battle.”
The Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency has five board members, and Klima said Councilman Bert Perello was selected recently as an alternate board member which she called great news.
“Since 1990, the GMA imposed a 25 percent pumping reduction on groundwater use on municipal and industrial pumpers,” she said. “In 2014, the GMA implemented Emergency Ordinance E, which imposed another 20 percent reduction on municipal and industrial pumpers, which is still in effect, so we’ve already been regulated pretty significantly.”
She said the revised groundwater sustainability plan was due out in late Feb. 2019, but it’s been pushed back to late April and will be a massive document that will require many revisions.
“The final GSP is expected in July 2019, but it might be pushed back too,” she said. “Once the GMA board adopts this it has to be approved by the state.”
The GMA is developing a new allocation ordinance that will run concurrently with the GSP, she said, and it will inform each entity about how it needs to reduce pumping over time.
“The allocation ordinance is scheduled to be adopted on Jan. 23, and under state law, the ordinance only requires one reading,” Klima said. “It’s intended to be effective immediately, and according to our meeting this afternoon, the GMA staff is going to recommend that it be effective at a later date, maybe over the summer or in Oct. and the allocation ordinance will split the pumpers between the agricultural and industrial pumpers.”
The city has pumping goals, she said, which includes the entire Oxnard and Pleasant Valley basin starts at 100,000 acre-feet per year, an accurate number, and each pumper will receive its share, but if the total allocation is too high, they are not tackling the problem.
“It also means there is going to be steeper cuts in the future,” she said.
The second goal is to preserve the 60/40 split, she said, which means whatever the starting point is, 60 percent will be allocated to the agricultural pumpers, and 40 percent will be allocated to the municipal and industrial pumpers.
“This ratio that has been negotiated for over two years and it's an amount we are comfortable with in terms of what the city will get and then each group will sub-allocate to the pumpers in that group,” she said.
This story will continue in the Jan. 25, edition of the Tri County Sentry.