New groundwater law will have significant impact on Valley farmers starting in 2020

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The new year will bring new concerns over how much water farmers, cities, and school districts will be able to pump out of the ground.

A groundwater sustainability plan drawn up in 2014, in the middle of California's drought, will take effect in January and will set new limits on how much groundwater can be pumped out of wells.

The impact of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, will be significant. Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland are expected to be fallowed as a result of the new law.

"Preliminary estimations on the impact SGMA is gonna have on the whole Central Valley is gonna be between 800,000 and 1,000,000 acres coming out of production," says Gary Serrato. He now heads the North Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Serrato was previously the general manager of the Fresno Irrigation District.

California will be divided into Groundwater Sustainability Agencies. Each will be expected to generate reports to the state with water table information and what steps were taken to conserve water, such as the use of groundwater recharge facilities.

Concerned farmers have been attending information sessions.

"It's been said, up and down the valley, that one out of three acres could potentially go out of production," says Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen. "That's astronomical, in particular when you look at the economy of the Valley, so tied to agriculture."

Some growers already have an idea of whether they'll be impacted.

"If you're in an area where there is no surface water to be able to augment, your number's going to be a little less," says Serrato.

Areas with low water tables and incidents of subsidence (where land is sinking due to over-pumping) are likely to see pumping limits.

Farmers who have been allowed to flood fields to recharge their underground aquifer in the past will still be allowed to continue the practice.
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