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California flipped from dry to wet. The Kings Subbasin is capitalizing, recharging the aquifer to recover from drought period losses identified in the latest Annual Report.

The Kings Subbasin strategy to build recharge basins during the drought is paying off as it captures additional surface water for recharge during this historic wet year.

Water managers in the Kings Subbasin are moving with urgency to recharge the groundwater aquifer during what could amount to be the Kings River’s largest water year ever. New recharge basins built through the previous drought period have been filled for the first time with surface water flows to help replenish the aquifer following multiple water years with groundwater storage loss.

Laguna Irrigation District’s 30-acre Casa Loma Pond in the foreground and 20-acre Vaz Pond in the distance. Casa Loma recently underwent improvements ahead of this wet year to increase the rate water is recharged into the aquifer. Laguna ID is a member of the North Fork Kings GSA.

Surface water deliveries in the Kings Subbasin are projected to reach an estimated 1.8 million acre-feet this year, enough water to fill up Pine Flat’s 1-million-acre-foot reservoir nearly two times. The golden opportunity to capture as much water as possible is not lost on the Kings Subbasin. In fact, local water managers have been planning for it.

Since 2020, the seven Kings Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) and their members have collectively invested in 600 acres of prime groundwater recharge land to construct 15 dedicated recharge basins yielding over 15,000 acre-feet of new recharge capacity annually. This is in addition to the network of existing basins throughout the region that have been used to replenish groundwater supply for decades. 

Fresno Irrigation District’s Savory Basin completed in 2022. Fresno ID is a member of the North Kings GSA.

The nearby Consolidated Irrigation District in Central Kings GSA has recharged an estimated 160,000 acre-feet since February. Phil Desatoff, General Manager, expects the district will be able to recharge through October to put 320,000 acre-feet of water back into the ground.

As of April, the Laguna Irrigation District in the North Fork Kings GSA has recharged 10,000 acre-feet. General Manager Scott Sills expects to recharge around 6,000 acre-feet per month moving forward, and forecasts nearly 60,000 acre-feet will be recharged within the district.

Beyond just basins, many of the Kings Subbasin agencies have encouraged landowners to take part in groundwater sustainability through On-Farm Recharge. McMullin Area GSA to the west just wrapped up a pilot of On-Farm Recharge University, “OFR-U”, specifically designed to train growers into becoming confident recharge practitioners. Fresno ID received a grant from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to launch its Groundwater Recharge Pilot Program for growers to get funding for doing recharge on their farm.

With an emphasis on recharge, the Kings Subbasin is progressing toward groundwater sustainability off the heels of several dry years. The region’s latest SGMA Annual Report estimates 680,000 acre-feet of groundwater storage reduction occurred during the 2022 Water Year (October 1, 2021 – September 30, 2022) illustrating the real impacts of drought on groundwater supply. Kings River deliveries were 47% of normal totaling 529,000 acre-feet, a stark contrast to the extreme precipitation this year.

Kings Subbasin Water Year Type (2015 – 2022)
Kings Subbasin Annual Report Table 2-1

Drought comes as no surprise; the Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) outlining sustainability objectives accounted for fluctuations between dry and wet periods. The Kings Subbasin leaders remain hopeful that groundwater storage will begin to rebound thanks to the increasing network of recharge locations to capture the massive amounts of Kings River snowmelt for direct groundwater recharge.

It will take time, patience, and still more recharge to recover the aquifer from the last 3 drier years, but the Kings Subbasin is on track to make it happen.

Local Groundwater Plans Receive Green Light from State

Groundwater managers in the Kings Subbasin recently received positive news from the State that their Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) were approved. “The Department of Water Resources approval of the GSP is a huge milestone for our groundwater sustainability agency,” stated Fresno County grower and North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency Board Chair Mark McKean. “It allows us to continue our local efforts to bring our groundwater into balance without State intervention.” The North Fork Kings GSA is one of seven Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) within the Kings Subbasin located in Fresno County that received approval from the State.

GSPs are technical documents that can be hundreds of pages long but are, in simple terms, roadmaps on how to sustainability manage groundwater subbasins. “We appreciate the Department of Water Resources thorough review of our GSP, their approval, and their professional insight on how to improve our GSP,” stated North Fork Kings GSA General Manager Justin Mendes. “With the approval behind us, our energy is focused on executing groundwater projects that achieve the best results for our residents, landowners, and businesses who are users of our groundwater supply.” The North Fork Kings GSA is advancing several groundwater sustainability efforts including partnering with Fresno County on the construction of a recharge basin, developing a well mitigation program, and registering landowner wells. Each of these efforts are pieces of a puzzle to solve the groundwater overdraft under the North Fork Kings area.

Of the 12 subbasins reviewed by the Department of Water Resources (DWR), six were approved and six were not. Those subbasins not approved will now be under the jurisdiction of the State Water Resources Control Board. For the North Fork Kings GSA, the next check in with DWR will be in 2025. At that time, DWR will review the North Fork Kings update to the GSP and the work accomplished toward sustainability.

Fresno County Supervisors Approve Recharge Project in North Fork Kings GSA

The North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency is partnering with Fresno County to build a sixty-acre groundwater recharge facility near Highway 41 and Elkhorn Avenue. The County is working with the North Fork Kings GSA to offset groundwater overdraft in the unincorporated land within the North Fork Kings GSA boundaries. The County will use State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to fund the $6,000,000 design and construction of the Elkhorn Recharge Facility along with a conveyance system to transfer surface water from the Liberty Canal to the project.

Diverted water from the Liberty Canal will be used to recharge the groundwater aquifer, increasing the reliability of clean drinking water for member agencies of the North Fork Kings GSA. The project will also benefit the water supplies of disadvantaged communities within the North Fork Kings GSA including Riverdale and Lanare, which are down gradient from the project location. The Elkhorn Recharge Facility’s estimated completion date is December 2026.

Online Portal will Support Well Registration and Future Sustainability Programs

At their Board meeting on the evening of September 21st, the North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency (North Fork Kings GSA) Board discussed and approved a proposal by MLJ Environmental to develop a North Fork Kings GSA online portal. The Board members expressed their desire for a portal that was easy to use by landowners, cost-efficient, and could be expanded to support future sustainability programs. The immediate use of the portal will be to register existing wells within the boundaries of the North Fork Kings GSA. Well registration is an essential undertaking to better manage groundwater.

To provide a user-friendly experience for landowners, the portal will be similar in function to the Kings River Water Quality Coalition member portal. Coalition members will have the ability to streamline well registration using their member portal to share contact information and other data, such as crop, parcel, and management practices with the North Fork Kings GSA portal. No data from the Coalition member would be accessed or shared with the North Fork Kings GSA without the member’s consent and authorization.

It is anticipated the North Fork Kings GSA portal will be available for use by early 2023. The North Fork Kings GSA will provide instructional workshops and tools to assist landowners with account setup and use. Those landowners or residents who use less than 2 acre-feet (an acre foot is approximately 326,000 gallons) per year of groundwater will not be required to register their wells.

The contract with MLJ Environmental is a 4-year commitment with a monthly subscription cost of $3,400. If additional GSAs within the Kings Subbasin decide to subscribe to the portal with MLJ Environmental, the monthly subscription will be reduced based on the number of participating GSAs. Costs associated with development of the portal have also been moderated through the work already completed by MLJ Environmental in building a similar tool for Greater Kaweah GSA that allows Kings River Water Quality Coalition members within the Greater Kaweah GSA to share data with the Greater Kaweah GSA Portal.  

Board Adopts, Submits GSP Revisions to State

At the July 14 special meeting, the North Fork Kings Board adopted the revisions to the North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). The revisions were in response to the Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) ruling that the GSP was incomplete after a two-year review. The North Fork King’s GSP was one of seven GSPs in the Kings Subbasin ruled incomplete.

The DWR stated the seven GSPs needed more coordination and consistency and identified several deficiencies. Most of the State’s comments centered around Sustainable Management Criteria which are the quantitative metrics that define sustainable management of a subbasin. The deficiencies covered four main topics: groundwater levels, land subsidence, interconnected surface water, and water quality.

The revised GSPs were submitted to DWR prior to the July 27 deadline. DWR will review the GSPs to evaluate whether the deficiencies were sufficiently addressed. If the GSAs failed to take sufficient actions to correct the deficiencies, the GSPs will not be approved. If this happens, the State Water Resources Control Board has the authority to intervene and take over management of the Subbasin. It is anticipated the State will complete their review no later than early 2023. To view the final revised GSP go to www.northforkkings.org/gspdownload.

Four Main Deficiencies Were Addressed in Groundwater Sustainability Plan Revisions

On January 28, the Kings Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) were notified by the State that the collective Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) of the seven Groundwater Sustainability Agencies in the Kings Subbasin were incomplete. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) informed the Kings Subbasin Coordination consultant Provost & Pritchard Consulting Group that the Subbasin’s GSPs did not satisfy the objectives of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) nor substantially comply with the GSP Regulations. The Kings Subbasin GSAs were required to address the deficiencies and resubmit the GSPs to the Department for evaluation no later than July 27, 2022.

DWR noted that the seven GSPs needed more coordination and consistency and identified several deficiencies that prevented approval of the GSPs. Most of DWR’s comments centered around Sustainable Management Criteria, which are the quantitative metrics that define sustainable management of a subbasin. The deficiencies covered the areas of how lowering of groundwater levels are to be handled; how land subsidence will be identified and handled; the identification of interconnected surface water systems; and sustainable management criteria for possible water quality issues.

The Kings Subbasin Coordination Group, which is comprised of the leadership of the seven GSAs, started working on revisions to the GSPs in February with final drafts completed in June. Each GSA Board is now in the process of adopting their respective GSPs that include the corrections to the deficiencies identified by the State. The North Fork Kings GSA has scheduled a special Board meeting on July 14 to adopt the revised GSP.

Below is a brief summary of the general revisions to the GSPs. To view the complete North Fork Kings GSP revision documents go to www.northforkkings.org/gspdownload.

Deficiency 1: GSPs do not set their Sustainable Management Criteria for chronic lowering of groundwater levels in a manner consistent with the requirements of SGMA and the GSP regulations.

Response to Deficiency 1: Changes to the GSPs include discussion that primary concerns related to Undesirable Results for groundwater levels are that groundwater levels will decline in dry periods to a point that they will not likely recover during normal/wet periods and a significant and unreasonable number of shallow domestic wells will go dry. Language was added acknowledging the impact on shallow wells and a shallow Well Mitigation Program has been added to the GSPs. The GSPs also reiterated the significant aquifer in the Kings Subbasin, several hundred feet below current levels with water of suitable quality.

Deficiency 2: GSPs do not set Minimum Thresholds (MTs) and Measurable Objectives (MOs) for land subsidence in a manner consistent with their undesirable result definition and the requirements of SGMA and GSP regulations.

Response to Deficiency 2: Primary concern is loss of capacity in gravity flow water conveyance systems. Changes to the GSPs include focus on impacts on infrastructure on main irrigation canals. The established MT is based on canal capacity. It is recognized that the Subbasin does not have good data on the confined aquifer pumping. One of the programs in the GSPs is to fill that data gap. The GSPs also acknowledge that the Subbasin can only eliminate subsidence within the Kings Subbasin control and that subsidence from other areas is impacting the Kings Subbasin.

Deficiency 3: GSPs do not consistently identify interconnected surface water systems, or provide the location, quantity, and timing of depletions of those systems due to groundwater use. The GSPs do not define Sustainable Management Criteria for the depletions of interconnected surface water in the manner required by the GSP regulations.

Response to Deficiency 3: Much of the language is revised to list this as a data gap. A plan and timeline have been included to gather missing information and determine extent of interconnection, as well as estimate of possible groundwater pumping. Coordination with the San Joaquin River Restoration Program and Kings River Fisheries Management Program were referenced as providing a better understanding of surface water uses/losses along those rivers in order to maintain required flows.

Deficiency 4: GSPs do not provide adequate information to support the selection of degraded water quality Sustainable Management Criteria.

Response to Deficiency 4: Language has been revised to be more specific regarding the determination of Undesirable Results. Water quality data will be collected annually and compared against Minimum Threshold levels. If there is an exceedance, site-specific investigation will be conducted to try to determine if GSA actions have contributed to groundwater quality degradation, and if so, management actions will be implemented.

Once the GSAs resubmit their respective GSPs, DWR will provide a 60-day comment period and then review the revised GSPs to evaluate whether the deficiencies were sufficiently addressed. Should the GSAs fail to take sufficient actions to correct the deficiencies identified by the DWR, the GSPs will not be approved. If this happens, the State Water Resources Control Board has the authority to intervene and take over management of the Subbasin. DWR anticipates they will complete their review of the GSPs and provide a ruling no later than early 2023.

Board Hires New General Manager

The North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency Board approved the hiring of Justin Mendes as their new General Manager at the May 25 Board meeting.

“I am happy to hire Justin to tackle the many issues in front of the North Fork Kings GSA,” stated Board Chair Mark McKean.

Justin was raised in Riverdale, graduating Riverdale High School in 2004. Justin comes to the GSA most recently from Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District handling government and regulatory affairs. Before that, Justin spent over 10 years as a District Director for the U.S. Congress and the State Assembly; specializing in constituent services and community outreach. 

Board Update on Governor’s Executive Order and GSP Revisions

Governor’s Executive Order

During the last few weeks, the North Forks Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency (North Fork Kings GSA) has been working with Fresno and Kings counties to address the Governor’s Executive Order N-7-22. Governor Newsom declared that groundwater sustainability agencies will start reviewing well permits with consideration of the well’s effect on the groundwater sustainability plan. North Fork Kings GSA has designed a process to review well permits that would not cause significant delays to well drilling schedules. Upon review and approval of the well, the North Fork Kings GSA will send a notification stating that the well cannot have “detrimental effects” and “undesirable results” on the neighboring wells in the area. For more information on North Fork Kings GSA’s process, contact us at (559) 242-6118.

Groundwater Sustainability Revisions

The North Fork Kings GSA is currently working to address comments from the Department of Water Resources (DWR) on the North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Plan (Plan) that determined the Plan to be insufficient. The DWR identified several deficiencies that prevented approval of the Plan. The deficiencies covered the areas of how lowering of groundwater levels are to be handled; how land subsidence will be identified and handled; the identification of interconnected surface water systems; and sustainable management criteria for possible water quality issues. The Kings Subbasin GSAs are coordinating to revise all the Plans in order to have more common language and consistency. The revisions are due to DWR at the end of July which will then be open for public comments for 60 days before DWR begins its review.

              In addition to addressing the comments from DWR, the North Fork Kings GSA Board approved signing on with other groundwater sustainability agencies in the Kings Subbasin to a letter addressed to Deputy Director Karla Nemeth of the Department of Water Resources. The letter is in response to DWR’s determination that all groundwater sustainability plans in the subbasin are incomplete. This letter specifically addresses DWR’s comments with regards to groundwater levels and the verbal reference by DWR that any single well that goes dry is significant and unreasonable. The letter states that this limits the groundwater sustainability agencies in the Kings Subbasin ability to have local control to decide what is significant and unreasonable and that it is not within the requirements in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act for the groundwater sustainability agency to be responsible for ensuring that no rural residential well goes dry.

Determining Groundwater Use

There are two basic ways to determine the amount of groundwater used by each landowner: (1) measuring the volume of groundwater pumped by using a flowmeter on the well, or (2) through crop evapotranspiration information obtained via satellite technology. A flowmeter installed on a well measures the gross or total amount of groundwater pumped, whereas the net amount of consumed groundwater can be determined through calculations using crop water use data. The gross amount of water pumped will exceed the net consumptive use because of inefficiencies in the irrigation system.

The North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency (NFKGSA) has recently hired a consultant that utilizes satellite data, cropping data, and local weather stations within the NFKGSA to calculate, by field and by parcel, the amount of water consumed by the crop each month. The actual cropped acreage of a field is identified along with the crop itself. This data is available approximately 30 days after the end of each month. After accounting for surface water deliveries to the field and the amount of precipitation used by the crop, the amount of consumed groundwater can be obtained. At this time, the NFKGSA is using the crop consumptive use information to calculate groundwater use and is only requiring flowmeters to be installed on new wells, but all groundwater wells within the GSA may be required to measure groundwater extraction by flowmeters at some point in the future.

The maps below represent the amount of water consumed by fields in the GSA for the months June, July, and August 2021. Measuring water consumption and calculating groundwater use allows the NFKGSA Board to effectively track progress and make management decisions to achieve groundwater sustainability as required by State law. These maps that allow you to view your measured water use are located at www.northforkkings.org/maps. Additional information on how the crop consumptive use information will be used will be provided to all landowners in the near future.

Kings Subbasin Builds for Drought Resilience at Record Pace

15 basins representing 600 acres of prime groundwater recharge land with a singular goal of groundwater sustainability

Click here to view the StoryMap outlining project details, locations, and more, and to view the highlight video.

In the short span of two years, the Kings Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, including the North Fork Kings GSA, have invested in 600 acres of prime groundwater recharge land. This land represents 15 dedicated basins that are constructed or in development.

Local water managers have taken the long view as they invest in infrastructure now with the goal to bring sustainability to the groundwater supply shared by all within the Kings Subbasin region.

The additional water infrastructure is anticipated to provide over 15,000 acre-feet of recharge per year on average, directly benefitting groundwater levels for communities and ag lands in the area. An acre foot equals 325,900 gallons, or enough water to cover a football field to a depth of one foot.


View Full StoryMap

Project highlights, videos, locations, and more.

StoryMap


Since the Kings Subbasin submitted seven Groundwater Sustainability Plan Plans (GSP) in January 2020, there has been a driven effort to successfully build groundwater recharge capacity to support Kings Subbasin sustainability goals.

The North Fork Kings GSA has worked diligently alongside its subbasin neighbors to contribute to these efforts. Since GSP adoption, member agency Laguna Irrigation District (ID) has expanded and improved its existing Basin 11 project. Cooperation with water districts like Laguna ID and local landowners has catalyzed construction on several additional projects that in total will bring over 7,000 acre-feet of increased recharge capacity to the area.

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