Madera County farmers must now decrease water use or pay penalty

This is an amended amount to the original $500 per acre-foot penalty that was proposed.

Brittany Jacob Image
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
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Many farmers in Madera County are now being told to slash their water use or pay a penalty.

MADERA COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Farmers in Madera County showed up in full force at Tuesday's Board Meeting.

The discussion - penalties for extracting excess groundwater.

Many shared their concerns with signs and dozens even took to the mic.

After more than three hours of discussion, the County Board voted to impose a $100 per acre-foot penalty on those who extract groundwater above the allocation for the Madera and Delta-Mendota subbasins in 2023.

"Our penalty is more of a bumping hammer than a sledgehammer," says supervisor Brett Frazier.

This is an amended amount to the original $500 per acre-foot penalty that was proposed.

Jay Mahil is a fourth-generation farmer. He says the unintended consequences will be felt county-wide.

"You will truly see the trickle-down effect happen," he said. "If I have to fallow ground, lay off employees, that means it's that much less business done in town."

In June, the county board approved other fees.

Ralph Pistoresi says all of these penalties come at a time when the price of some commodities - such as almonds -- is down, while fuel and labor prices are up.

County Supervisor Robert Poythress also farms about a thousand acres.

He says he, too, is being impacted by the county's decision. But he says there needs to be a disincentive for going above the allocation.

"We're looking to actually save agriculture," he said. "Unfortunately, if we don't do something about making or putting in the water that we take out so we have a sustainable aquifer, we're just going to be continuing to use water quality."

Despite the vote, Supervisor David Rogers feels the fees are too high and there's no accurate tool to measure the penalties.

"These people mean everything to me," he said. "They are why I am in office and when I see them suffering, I'm suffering."

The Chowchilla Subbasin has a $1,000 per farm unit penalty that could be waived if they meet certain requirements.

Mahil said they hope to open an escrow account up and place money for the domestic well mitigation.