Santa Barbara County supervisors on Tuesday accepted a report on efforts to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and set May 8 for a public hearing on removing “fringe” areas from the Santa Maria basin.
The 4-0 vote also directed the Santa Barbara County Water Agency staff to notify the California Department of Water Resources that it is considering a basin boundary modification to eliminate some of the “fringe” areas from the state’s definition of the basin.
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam recused himself from hearing the report and voting on the staff recommendations because of a potential conflict of interest.
“My family and I farm and have water rights that may be in the (groundwater management agencies’ jurisdiction),” Adam said.
Until he can consult with the Fair Political Practices Commission to determine if a conflict exists, Adam said he will recuse himself from discussions of the groundwater basin.
Matt Young, water resources program manager, gave the board an overview of where the County Water Agency stands in its efforts to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act — or SGMA, pronounced “sigma” — in the five county basins the Department of Water Resources has designated medium- or high-priority basins.
Those are the Santa Maria River Valley, Cuyama Valley and San Antonio Creek Valley groundwater basins and the unadjudicated “fringe” areas of the adjudicated Santa Maria River Valley and Goleta groundwater basins.
The designation makes the basins subject to SGMA provisions, which include forming a groundwater sustainability agency to develop a groundwater sustainability plan.
“Each basin is unique in its conditions, issues and governance approach,” Young said.
Santa Maria and Goleta
The extent of the Santa Maria River Valley Groundwater Basin was adjudicated as the result of a lawsuit over water rights filed in 1997 that in 2005 was settled in a stipulated judgment dividing the basin into management areas, each with a management plan.
Similarly, the boundary of the Goleta Groundwater Basin has been adjudicated by the courts.
But the boundaries of the adjudicated basin don’t match the Department of Water Resources’ boundaries, so groundwater sustainability agencies and plans must be developed for those nonadjudicated “fringe” areas.
Young said because three of the fringe areas on the east side of the Santa Maria basin have had little agricultural production and limited groundwater use, the staff feels the Department of Water Resources may agree to remove those from the basin definition.
Some of the basin’s fringe areas lie in San Luis Obispo County, which also plans to apply for a basin boundary modification, he said.
The staff is less confident about modifying the Goleta basin boundary.
“Boundary modification may not be successful over the entire fringe area, and staff will continue to work with state agencies to avoid or minimize (groundwater sustainability plan) preparation,” Young said.
Producing a plan requires appointing ad hoc committees for hiring staff and consultants, establishing an advisory committee, developing a budget and hiring an executive director, a general counsel and a technical consultant to prepare a grant application and the plan itself.
“For the fringe areas, we’re just getting started, so we’ll probably wait on doing the advisory committee until we’ve found out what the basin boundary will look like,” Young added.
In the meantime, the staff will notify the Department of Water Resources and bring the proposed boundary modification to the Board of Supervisors for a hearing on May 8, prior to the June 30 deadline to submit the application.
Because the Cuyama Valley basin was designated as “critically overdrafted” in addition to "medium priority," that accelerated the timeline for completing the sustainability plan, Young said.
The Water Agency had accomplished all the steps toward developing a sustainability plan except completing a budget and cost-sharing agreement for the six public agencies with a stake in the basin and actually starting the plan preparation.
But, Young noted, the Cuyama Groundwater Sustainability Agency has been awarded a $1.6 million grant to help with the costs.
Santa Ynez River
The Santa Ynez River Valley Groundwater Basin stretches from a point several miles east of Cachuma Lake along the riverbed to Vandenberg Air Force Base, and multiple cities, service districts and others have a stake in the basin.
As a result, they agreed to form three groundwater management agencies — the Eastern, Central and Western — but since the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District encompasses the majority of the basin, it is taking the lead on SGMA implementation, Young said.
So far, the district has engaged a consultant, conducted an assessment of data gaps that need to be filled to develop a sustainability plan and is getting technical assistance from the Water Agency.
The trio of sustainability agencies has received a $1 million grant and will now begin contacting stakeholders, holding regular meetings and calling for applications for the advisory committees to provide broad representation.
The Water Agency has budgeted money to support a hydrogeological investigation in the Eastern Groundwater Sustainability Agency area, Young added.
San Antonio Creek
The San Antonio Creek Valley Groundwater Basin agency has established a regular meeting schedule and solicited applications for its advisory committee, he said, adding it also has received a $300,000 grant.
The Water Agency is working with the U.S. Geological Survey on a groundwater availability study for the basin that was launched prior to SGMA becoming law in 2014. The study will form a basis for preparing the sustainability plan.
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann was impressed by the Water Agency’s progress to date.
“This is a new statute with a huge amount of work,” she said. “I can’t believe how you’ve gotten all the grants and you’re just chugging along and getting it all done. It’s a real testament to the professionalism of our staff.”