Eastern San Joaquin groundwater plan gets a thumbs up

Mar. 4—STOCKTON — The California Department of Water Resources has recommended the approval of the Eastern San Joaquin Water Authority Groundwater Sustainability Plan.

San Joaquin County officials said the recommendation is a significant step toward ensuring the region will have enough groundwater by 2040.

"DWR's acceptance of our groundwater sustainability plan is a tribute to the hard work and historic collaboration among 16 diverse Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) that joined together to build consensus around realistic and common-sense solutions with the unified goal of sustainability," San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Rickman said in a Friday media statement.

Rickman, who represents the Tracy area on the board, also serves as the Chairman for the Eastern San Joaquin Groundwater Authority, the agency that drafted the groundwater sustainability plan.

"We want to thank DWR for their contribution of grant monies and expertise which have helped us produce a viable GSP that will lead to sustainably using local surface and groundwater supplies while also sustaining our local economy," he added.

The DWR has been designated the basin as being in critical overdraft, meaning more water is taken out of the ground than is recharged on an annual basis.

Groundwater supplied roughly 60% of the water used in the Eastern San Joaquin Subbasin in 2022, a drought year when a relatively small amount of surface water was available.

As a result, the subbasin experienced a decrease in groundwater storage of 122,000 acre-feet, contributing to the long-term decline in water levels.

In some parts of the San Joaquin Valley, groundwater levels are reaching record lows due to ongoing groundwater use and the drought — as much as 100 feet lower than previous records.

Chronic lowering of groundwater levels may cause land subsidence, seawater intrusion, groundwater quality issues, and other undesirable effects in many parts of the state. Continued groundwater over-pumping could also put nearby infrastructure such as structures, roads and pipelines at greater risk of costly damage, the county said. To address the problem, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was enacted in 2014, the first-ever comprehensive groundwater management legislation in California.

The SGMA requires agencies to develop plans that result in sustainable groundwater use within 20 years for groundwater basins designated by the state as medium- or high-priority.

Successful implementation would protect water quality and supplies for agricultural, municipal, environmental, among other uses.

"The Eastern San Joaquin GSP contains project management actions that will help the regional groundwater basin achieve sustainability for all our GSAs," San Joaquin County Public Works director Fritz Buchman said in Friday's media statement.

"When these actions are implemented, we can solve our overdraft and use the groundwater storage space in the basin as a reservoir," he added. "This will help us avoid restrictions on pumping, respond to drought and climate change, and take full advantage of the resources available from our rivers and streams while protecting and enhancing the environment."

The ESJGWA was formed in 2017 by local agencies that included cities, counties and water districts to develop a groundwater sustainability plans for the Eastern San Joaquin groundwater basin, which consists of about 1,200 square miles encompassing the portion of the county east of the San Joaquin River, and smaller sections of Calaveras and Stanislaus counties.

For more information www.sgma.water.ca.gov.