CSPA has dismissed its 2009 water rights protest against the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District. CSPA’s dismissal will allow the District to use time-restricted funding to complete a groundwater recharge project. North San Joaquin will report annually to CSPA regarding its projects and its efforts to bring its groundwater into balance.
North San Joaquin petitioned in 2007 for more time to use all the water it was allowed to use under a 1950’s era water rights permit. When the petition was noticed by the State Water Board in 2009, CSPA protested on four major grounds: the District had no project planned to use more water, had no money for a project, had performed no environmental review, and perhaps most importantly had no demonstrable intent to bring its overdrafted groundwater into balance. For several years after the protest was filed, things deteriorated at the District: its members voted down a charge on groundwater pumping to pay for infrastructure, and its Board became very dysfunctional. However, since 2012, the District has changed direction. It has partnered with San Joaquin County, it has defined several projects, it has secured funding, and it has completed environmental review for its first major project.
The recently passed legislation to regulate groundwater, while requiring less reporting than CSPA had advocated for, provides a new backstop that over the long term will help protect against worsening groundwater levels. More positively, many areas in the District have reduced demand and improved previously overdrafted conditions, and both the District and the County appear serious about groundwater sustainability. The relatively small amount of water available under an extended permit will allow North San Joaquin and its partner San Joaquin County to develop pilot projects that demonstrate their ability to stabilize water use.