A fight over water has put the Marina Coast Water District at odds with the soon-to-be-created Salinas Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Both sides accuse the other of a power grab by including the Monterey sub-basin in their proposals to create state-mandated groundwater sustainability agencies.
Even as an arid state with limited water resources, California has long lagged behind other states by not having a comprehensive plan to manage groundwater and aquifers that support agriculture and many cities. In fact, groundwater is used by 85 percent of the state’s population.
In September 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a three-bill package, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, into law that requires local governments to create groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) for designated groundwater basins in the state. The act requires the new agencies to develop a plan for sustainability by 2022 and achieve full sustainability by 2042.
On Dec. 13, both the Salinas City Council and the Monterey County Supervisors approved the creation of a joint powers authority that will also include the South County cities: Soledad, Greenfield, Gonzales and King City.
“As advanced as California can be on many issues, it is one of the last state to pass legislation on groundwater,” says Gary Peterson, the director of Public Works for the city of Salinas. “This is the greatest change in California water law in 100 years.”
The Marina Coast Water District was involved with a collaborative working group for the Salinas Valley Basin until it pulled out and decided to pursue its own GSA. For its GSA it has included the Monterey sub-basin that includes the Fort Ord, Laguna Seca and Corral de Tierra areas, which are currently out of their service area.
Monterey County and city of Salinas official claim the MCWD doesn’t have the right to include the sub-basin in their plans.
A special meeting was held by the Monterey County Supervisors on Dec. 22 to include the Monterey sub-basin in the GSA before a state filing deadline. MCWD board members attended the meeting to denounce the move by the county claiming it was a land grab on their territory on Fort Ord. County officials questioned whether the state would even allow MCWD to create its own GSA.
“They were at the table, then they stopped being at the table,” Peterson told the supervisors at the meeting, lamenting the situation. “We need to manage this regionally and collectively.”
The supervisors voted 5-0 to include the Monterey sub-basin in the GSA, over threats of litigation by the MCWD.
Howard Gustafson, MCWD board president, told the supervisors he would be writing letters to President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. He also said the “new sheriff” Trump would take care of California’s water issues.
“They don’t know how to play nice in the sandbox,” outgoing Supervisor Dave Potter says after his last meeting. “Litigation seems to be their preferred method of communication, even when they haven’t been very successful at it.”