California State Agency Denies Request to Divide Overdrafted Cuyama Basin

After listening to new evidence from concerned local residents, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) has denied a request by Santa Barbara County to adjust the boundaries of the Cuyama groundwater basin.

The County had requested that the basin be split in two, an action which would have divided long-time agricultural users on the east side of the basin from the new powerhouse on the west side; Harvard University’s endowment fund (doing business as Brodiaea, Inc.), which has purchased more than 7,500 acres of formerly non-irrigated rangeland and is sinking deep irrigation wells (11 in the past two years) to fuel the land’s conversion to vineyards.

50 residents of the sparsely populated valley signed a letter to DWR expressing their concern about the proposed change and the lack of information available to understand the west side of the basin.

“We’ve been very concerned about the intensive new agricultural use on the west side,” said Roberta Jaffe, a farmer in the Cuyama Valley’s west side.  “We’re thrilled that the state agrees with us that groundwater for the whole valley needs to be operated sustainably, and the best way to do that is to keep the basin intact.”

Jennifer Clary of Clean Water Action, who facilitates community participation in the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), said:  “The Department listened to the concerns of the local community.  That respect for community engagement and expertise is important for the successful implementation of our new groundwater law.”

The decision comes as part of a public process kicked off by DWR, which will hold meetings around the state this month to solicit feedback on its responses to more than 50 basin boundary change proposals submitted by local agencies. Their draft decision will be made final after those meetings take place.

“With this decision, we hope to work with Santa Barbara County in developing a plan for sustainable groundwater management for the entire Cuyama basin,” Jaffe added.

Meanwhile, local agencies have just a year left to establish their governance structure. Groundwater basins declared in critical overdraft, like Cuyama Valley basin, have until January of 2020 to complete their Groundwater Sustainability Plans.