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.
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.
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).
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. 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.
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.