Beyond the Dais: The Yolo Water Resources Association of Yolo County and Groundwater Management

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis

By Robb Davis

Note: This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the work of various city commissions, their charges and key issues they are addressing and the role of various county, regional and joint powers authority (JPA) boards and the key issues before them.

Background

The Water Resources Association of Yolo County (WRA) is a California non-profit mutual benefit corporation of which the City of Davis is a member. I am Davis’ designated Board Director, Public Works Director Bob Clarke is an Alternate Director and Public Works staff member Richard Tsai sits on the Technical Committee. Other members include Yolo County, Cities, UCD, the Yolo County Flood Control & Water Conservation District and various County-based reclamation districts.

The WRA supports the efforts of its Members to obtain, protect and maintain a high quality water supply adequate for the present and future needs of Yolo County; educates its Members, governmental authorities and the public regarding all aspects of water use and water rights; and provides a forum for the exchange of information among Members and others.[1]

The WRA functions as a clearinghouse for actions related to flood control, water quality and groundwater monitoring as well as coordinating the implementation of the Yolo County’s Integrated Regional Water Management Program (IRWMP).

Sustainable Groundwater Management

The work of the WRA has recently taken on special meaning for all residents of Yolo County due to groundwater management legislation passed in 2014 by the state legislature. Governor Brown signed three bills—SB1168, SB1319, and AB1739—into law on 16 September 2014. The three led to changes in the State Water Code known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

This act is historic because, for the first time, the State explicitly recognizes groundwater as an important element of our water portfolio. It is also historic because it recognizes that local agencies are the key to sustainably managing groundwater supplies. It empowers local agencies to form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) and requires them to develop, as the key output of that formation, Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSP).

In response to this act, the WRA has proactively undertaken steps to establish a local GSA and to develop the agency with an eye to bringing all key stakeholders—including farmers (via the Farm Bureau), the Resource Conservation District and others—around the table to develop the parameters by which the local GSA will be formed. Not surprisingly, the legislation and the formation of the GSA raise many concerns among stakeholders because, for the first time, a local agency will be empowered not only to develop a plan to assure sustainable management of groundwater but also has the authority (among others) to adopt rules, regulations, ordinances, resolutions; conduct investigations; conduct inspections under an inspection warrant; and require registration of wells.

Given the potential conflict and tensions inherent in establishing a local groundwater management approach, the WRA is carefully establishing an inclusive GSA planning approach with an eye to assuring that principles and practices of effective conflict resolution are built into the process.

I am personally excited to be part of this planning process for several reasons. First, the WRA Board and key stakeholders are committed to taking the time to work through challenges in a thorough way. Second, I am very impressed with the mature leadership of my colleagues on the WRA Board and among the various stakeholder groups. Third, thanks to the hard work of the WRA and groups like the Yolo County Flood Control & Water Conservation District, Yolo County already has a robust groundwater monitoring system in place. Figure 1 shows historical data from these efforts using information from over 100 routinely monitored wells. Other, real time data is collected from sentinel sites across the county. Cities, including Davis, also engage in routine monitoring (Note: City staff will begin sharing well monitoring data along with water production/consumption data on a quarterly basis).

Figure 1 - Source: Tim O'Halloran, YCFCWCD
Figure 1 – Source: Tim O’Halloran, YCFCWCD

Unlike many regions around the state—and despite population growth—Yolo’s groundwater has been managed in a sustainable way to date. However, because of our overlying population; projected population growth; the existence of public supply wells; irrigated acreage; reliance on groundwater as the primary source of water and other factors, the state has rated 3 of the 4 basins in Yolo County as priority for sustainable management.[2] Because of this, our early and active engagement in developing a collaborative sustainability plan is critical to assuring that past efforts continue into the future.

Next Steps

On Tuesday evening, the City Council will hear a brief presentation from Tim O’Halloran of the WRA and the Yolo County Flood Control & Water Conservation District about the GSA formation. We will have before us a resolution to support the concept of the WRA and the Farm Bureau working collaboratively to develop the GSA. Development of the GSA will take time but I believe that Davis’ contribution to the process is vital because the GSA’s efforts will provide for a long-term coordinated and collaborative effort to sustain a critical natural resource in our region.

(For a useful summary of the legislation and its implications click here)

Robb Davis is the Mayor Pro Tem of the city of Davis.

[1] From the WRA by-laws

[2] For a full set of criteria and maps of priority basins statewide click here.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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12 thoughts on “Beyond the Dais: The Yolo Water Resources Association of Yolo County and Groundwater Management”

  1. Anon

    We will have before us a resolution to support the concept of the WRA and the Farm Bureau working collaboratively to develop the GSA. Development of the GSA will take time but I believe that Davis’ contribution to the process is vital because the GSA’s efforts will provide for a long-term coordinated and collaborative effort to sustain a critical natural resource in our region.”

    Please help me understand.

    What was the purpose for forming this nonprofit public benefit corporation? Normally a nonprofit public benefit corporation such as a 501(c)(3) is formed for religious, charitable, educational or scientific purposes.  According to this article the WRA was formed for the following purposes:

    The WRA supports the efforts of its Members to obtain, protect and maintain a high quality water supply adequate for the present and future needs of Yolo County; educates its Members, governmental authorities and the public regarding all aspects of water use and water rights; and provides a forum for the exchange of information among Members and others.  The WRA functions as a clearinghouse for actions related to flood control, water quality and groundwater monitoring as well as coordinating the implementation of the Yolo County’s Integrated Regional Water Management Program (IRWMP).

    It sounds like the WRA is performing more of a governmental function.  Yet the WRA is a PRIVATE nonprofit public benefit corporation (is it a 501(c)(3); 501(c)(4) or exactly what?).  Thus it is not answerable to the electorate or any gov’t agency, in so far as I am aware.

    According to this article written by Council member Robb Davis the “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)…empowers LOCAL AGENCIES to form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) and requires them to develop, as the key output of that formation, Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSP).”  Is the WRA considered a “local agency”?  I would assume a “local agency” would refer to a local gov’t agency (and as such answerable to the public in some way).

     
    I am quite puzzled by this process, because it seems very out of the ordinary to have a private public benefit nonprofit creating what is essentially a gov’t agency to protect our groundwater.  Am I missing something here?  I am very much in support of the legislation to better manage our groundwater, but just not comprehending the way in which such legislation is being implemented here in Yolo County.

    1. hpierce

      ‘ Normally a nonprofit public benefit corporation such as a 501(c)(3) is formed for religious, charitable, educational or scientific purposes.”  Irony?  Isn’t that how the Vanguard presents itself?

      Very good questions you pose, though.  Unfortunately, I do not possess answers.

  2. Robb Davis

    Good questions Anon and hpierce.  The WRA does not carry out any of the functions of a government agency.  It is a non-profit association that provides a venue to analyze water issues including groundwater and water quality; to help members understand legislative and regulatory actions and; to allow members to update one another on local water related issues. It has no legislative or policy promulgation authority.

    In the case of the GSA the legislation does not specify how a local GSA is to be formed. The WRA, is offering to help bring stakeholders together to develop recommendations for what form the GSA might take. It is asking for the various jurisdictions to affirm to affirm its role in coordinating the effort. 

    The resolution we are considering states: “…(T)he City Council of the City of Davis hereby supports the Water Resources Association of Yolo County, in the coordination with the Yolo County Farm Bureau and other interested parties, to act as the planning forum for determining what agency or agencies will serve as the Groundwater Sustainability Agency as defined in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014.”

    Here is the full staff report (which I did not have when I wrote the article).  I apologize if anything I wrote confused people as to the role of the WRA in this endeavor. (http://city-council.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CityCouncil/CouncilMeetings/Agendas/20150217/09-Groundwater-Sustainability-Agency-Formation.pdf)

  3. Jim Frame

    My view into groundwater management is kind of narrow (see below), but I’m guessing that the WRA is a “private” corporation because when it was formed there was no regulatory power envisioned for the group, and it provided a formal organization in which users/managers of a groundwater basin that spans multiple political subdivisions could exchange information and act in concert to better manage the basin.  I put “private” in quotes because voting members have to be public agencies; private organizations can be members, but without a vote.  Now that state legislation has created some regulatory power for GSAs, the legal structure of the Yolo WRA might have to change to accommodate the new requirements.

    With regard to groundwater matters, my role over the last 15 years has been to provide measurement data related to ground subsidence within areas as small as a few square miles and as large as the entire Sacramento Valley.  In this role I’ve had the pleasure of working with local, regional, state and federal agencies, as well as private landowners.  It’s a fascinating and challenging subject, and one that’s becoming more important every day.

    1. Robb Davis

      Jim. The WRA will not change. It will continue to do what it is doing. The GSA will be a new agency. We are merely being asked to affirm its role in helping to define the new agency. The new agency may be a joint powers authority.

  4. DavisBurns

    Jim Frame, I would really appreciate an article about subsidence in the Sacramento Valley and Yolo County in particular.  I have been told Davis has a kind of bulge because we pump less water than the farms that surround us but that is just hearsay.

  5. Anon

    To Robb Davis: Thank you for citing the full staff report explaining the makeup of the WRA:

    WHEREAS, the WRA membership consists of 10 public agencies (the County of Yolo, the cities of Davis, West Sacramento, Winters and Woodland, Dunnigan Water District, Reclamation Districts 108 and 2035, University of California in Davis, and the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District) representing both urban and rural interests; and

    WHEREAS, the WRA and its member agencies have long been involved in groundwater management issues…” 

    The WRA itself consists of public agencies answerable to the public, so I have a much greater comfort level going forward.  Managing our ground water is going to be crucial in the coming years.

    1. Jim Frame

      The WRA itself consists of public agencies answerable to the public, so I have a much greater comfort level going forward.

      A minor cautionary note here:  Reclamation Districts are public agencies, and are thus eligible to be voting members of the WRA.  However, the governing board of a district is elected by the landowners within the district, and in some cases the district boundaries neatly overly lands held under common ownership.  In other words, a single landowner can have its own RD, and thus its own voting representation on the WRA.

      I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with this arrangement, I only point it out to make a distinction between the common understanding of “answerable to the public” and the way that actually plays out in the real world.

      1. Anon

        I understand what you are saying.  I don’t have a problem of having some representation by landowners.  But I was very concerned that a nonprofit, not answerable to the public, was making the decisions on setting up a GSA.  I did not realize that public agencies answerable to the public are part of the nonprofit.

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