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Tuesday, Aug 12 2014 11:07 AM

Proposed laws may affect Tehachapi groundwater basins

California lawmakers are currently hashing out details on two bills that, if signed by the governor, would reinvent how the state's various groundwater basins are managed.

Should one or both bills pass, certain procedures would have to change, said John Martin, general manager for Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District.

"As it stands right now it would impact us for several reasons," Martin said on July 17.

One of the top reasons is the area's three adjudications would need to be certified by the state.

"Under the judgment what we have to consider is the safe yield of the basin," Martin said. Safe yield is the amount of water that can be extracted without damaging the basin.

Groundwater basins are recharged from natural sources like rain and snow, as well as return flow that seeps back into the ground.

Senate Bill 1168, written by state Sen. Fran Pavely (D-Agoura Hills), would change the dynamic, Martian said, in its attempt to establish a statewide groundwater management plan.

Pavely wrote the bill, along with Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), with the intent to protect endangered groundwater basins. Dickinson has a similar bill, Assembly Bill 1179, that would do essentially the same thing as Pavely's proposed legislation.

The bills may be merged into one with input from Gov. Jerry Brown's office.

"It doesn't use safe yield, it uses something called sustainable yield," Martin said.

The difference between the two terms is that the state is looking at not just a quantity of water that can be safely extracted, or safe yield, but also the impacts that extraction might have on basins. Those include water and ecosystem degradation and depletion from surface water bodies.

"These things we (the water district) really haven't considered in the past and now be looking at in the future," Martin said.

In the past, when the State Water Resources Board asked for the water district's groundwater management plan, Martin said it was simply handing over a copy of the adjudication judgment and the annual water report.

With the proposed laws, the process could become more involved -- and more costly. Martin said that the Department of Water Resources and Water Resources Board would comment on the adjudication agreement and mark where the water district might be "deficient" as to what the proposed laws are trying to accomplish.

As it stands,the proposed laws would put the basins through the process based on a risk priority. Brite Basin and Tehachapi East Basin would remain low on the radar, Martin said.

Cummings Basin, which has been identified as high priority, and the west portion of Tehachapi Basin, ranked as moderate priority, would have to go through the new process, Martin said.

Cummings Basin serves the agriculture sector of the Tehachapi area, while the western portion of Tehachapi Basin acts as a water source for the city of Tehachapi and Golden Hills Community Services District.

"Cummings Basin has had intensive agriculture use since 2000," Martin said.

The water district is in the middle of a study of the basin, which will be completed in November.

"Tehachapi Basin is in good shape, and we have banked water there, so we've supplemented the natural groundwater amount with imported supplies," Martin said. A lot of the water used by the water district in its sales is coming from the basin's banked supply.

However, if the drought continues in 2015, Martin said it wouldn't be prudent for the district to continue using Tehachapi Basin because it would impact other public agency and private wells.

"Our wells generally aren't located where other wells are, but if you have a continuing drought where there isn't new water being put in, and you're taking, taking, taking, then eventually you're going to have impacts," Martin said.

Pavely's bill passed the state senate's vote, while the Dickison bill survived the Assembly vote. Now both bills are being weighed on the other side the respective aisle.

"However, the governor has indicated he will sign it," Martin said. "He is behind this thing."

The plan isn't conducive to a one-size-fits-all approach, Martin said. He noted there are different types of basins throughout the state, each with its own qualities. The Tehachapi area basins, he said, don't have the support of permanent streams and rivers for replenished, unlike those in Northern California.

However, the bills do support local involvement.

"The bills say groundwater sources are most effectively managed at a local or regional level," Martin said. "They understand that there are a number of issues that need to be addressed at the local level that don't necessarily translate to other areas of the state."

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