Merced water body may not be approved by DWR CA


The El Capitan Canal located near the intersection of Highway 140 and Thornton Road in Merced County, California on Wednesday, December 22, 2021.

Merced area water agency officials say they update key regional groundwater plan after California Department of Water Resources said it was not going far enough to meet the state’s water sustainability goals.

The Merced Sub-Basin Groundwater Plan was one of the few Central Valley Irrigation District plans last month. poorly rated by the state.

Some of those notes dealt with alleged shortcomings, such as failing to indicate how to protect water quality, prevent drinking water wells from drying up, or prevent the earth from sinking further.

A Nov. 18 letter from Paul Gosselin, deputy director of sustainable groundwater management at DWR, said the plan for the Merced area did not justify the continued lowering of groundwater and subsidence (the sinking of the soil due to water extraction) in the local sub-basin.

Now local water officials say they are trying to respond to state comments and fill in gaps in the plan before the Jan. 28 deadline.

“We have more wells that are being monitored and we have allocated money to build wells where there are data gaps,” said Lloyd Pereira, county supervisor and chairman of the Merced Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Agency. .

Context of the plan

The groundwater plan for the 767 square mile Merced Sub-Basin was compiled by three groundwater entities that the region encompasses: the Merced Sub-Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency, the Agency for urban sustainability of Merced Irrigation and Turner Island Watershed District # 1.

The state considers the Merced sub-basin to be severely depleted, which means more water is being pumped from the ground than can be replaced by resources like rain, sleet, and other natural forms of d ‘irrigation.

Each of the state’s 48 groundwater sustainability agencies deemed to be in critical exceedance was expected to submit plans by January 2020 to reduce groundwater pumping under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Passed by the Legislative Assembly in 2014, it will take 25 years for the law to be fully implemented from its start date 2015, making 2040 the year when the law will be fully implemented.

The Department of Water Resources, the state agency presiding over the Sustainable Groundwater Act, responded to each of the plans this year.

Only six plans have been approved. Others received comments with the designation “Review in Progress”.

Merced Subbasin agencies wrote in the original plan that agricultural and urban water use should be reduced by 10% by 2025 and 40% by 2040 to meet the 420 states sustainability goal. 000 acre-feet of water pumped per year by 2040.

The current rate of groundwater pumping from the Merced Sub-Basin – 570,000 acre-feet per year – causes land subsidence or sag, from a quarter of a foot to just over half a foot per year. on average.

Farmers in the Merced sub-basin are urged to reduce their groundwater pumping by 2%, or 15,000 acre-feet per year, starting in 2020.

While less than a foot per year may not seem important for the ground to sink, it can sink it enough to cause significant damage to infrastructure.

The phenomenon caused other parts of the San Joaquin Valley to flow several meters, and authorities are still studying the effects of the subsidence on the Merced sub-basin.

“If we stop pumping, will that stop the land subsidence?” Maybe, maybe not, ”Pereira said. “We just don’t understand how water moves underground with 100% accuracy. “

Other water issues involved

Water officials are trying to resolve water issues with the state on several fronts.

Recently, the Merced Irrigation District launched a public campaign against a state plan to divert water from the Merced River.

MID officials say Bay Delta’s water quality control plan will reduce the amount of water in McClure Lake by 40%, leading to further water restrictions.

This compounds the already pressing economic concerns that irrigation officials in the Merced sub-basin see on the horizon.

“It’s a real blow,” said Scott Stoddard, director of cooperative extension at the University of California at Merced.

“It can cause a lot of problems with crops that don’t have enough water they need, especially in dry years, but almost even normal years now. It will be very difficult for producers in the region to cultivate as much as they want.

The Bay Delta plan was introduced years ago by the State Water Board to help improve salmon populations and water quality in the Bay Delta by diverting nearly half of the county’s water supply. of Merced from McClure Lake and sending it north.

It was opposed from the start by locals and officials in Merced, who said the effort would not improve salmon populations and that the water quality problems in the Bay Delta were not. caused by Merced.

Local officials also said the Bay Delta plan would leave producers in the Merced sub-basin with no water source other than groundwater.

They say it will also increase groundwater pumping and reduce the rate at which groundwater can be pumped in a sustainable manner, potentially decimating a county that relies on agriculture for much of its economic activity.

Despite the large water reductions facing the Merced sub-basin, some have said that minor to moderate reductions in agricultural production could benefit local farmers, to some extent.

“In theory, with less water, you have less cultivated land so you have less work,” Stoddard said. “I don’t know if you can necessarily say that this is a direct linear correlation between 50% less land, 50% less savings. I don’t think that’s probably what’s going to happen.

Theoretically, Stoddard said, with reduced water and therefore reduced agriculture, the increase in the price of agricultural products still produced in the Merced sub-basin could be a boost for farmers still in business.

However, this has its limits. “If there is nothing in the reservoir, and we can’t pump it, and we have a drastic reduction in acres as a result, like we have that figure of 40% or maybe even more, it doesn’t ‘is good for no one, “Stoddard mentioned.

Local water officials are also looking for other ways to curb groundwater pumping by 2040.

One solution is to have producers and farmers in the Merced sub-basin contribute an as yet undecided amount of money that could be used to pay some fallow – or retired sub-basin farmers – for their farmland. .

Pereira estimates that around 40% of agricultural land will currently be used for agricultural production in the Merced sub-basin.

However, the state-dispersed floodwaters could help replenish the water that producers in Merced will lose in the years to come, he added.

Under these circumstances, Merced County groundwater agencies would have to ask the state for flood water allocations, which could allow more agriculture than residents project.

“This is our goal,” Pereira said. “How we get there is the hard part.”

If the Ministry of Water Resources deems the Merced sub-basin groundwater plan “incomplete” by the January 28 deadline, local water officials have 180 days from the decision to fix it. .

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