Overpumping in Tulare County Threatens Newly Rebuilt Canal, Lawsuit Reveals

Farmers in Tulare County, California are facing criticism for their excessive groundwater pumping, which is endangering a newly constructed section of the Friant-Kern Canal. The canal had to be rebuilt due to overpumping, which caused a 33-mile segment to sink. A lawsuit filed on February 16 claims that the farmers are being allowed to pump so much groundwater that it is causing further damage to the canal. The Friant Water Authority and the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District filed the lawsuit against the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency, which is responsible for reducing groundwater pumping under the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

According to the lawsuit, the land around the new section of the canal is sinking at a faster rate than expected. This has necessitated the construction of a new canal next to the existing one, which had already experienced a significant reduction in capacity due to sinking. The reduced carrying capacity of the canal has had a severe impact on the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District, as it relies heavily on the canal for water supply.

The lawsuit claims that if the current rate of subsidence continues, it will result in a significant reduction in water deliveries to the Arvin-Edison district. The first phase of construction on a 10-mile section of the canal is expected to be completed by the end of March, allowing water to flow once again.

The Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency, which oversees much of the affected land, has been accused of allowing excessive groundwater pumping. The lawsuit argues that the agency’s plan is too lenient on farmers and does not impose adequate penalties for overpumping. It is alleged that the agency has failed to charge farmers enough to generate the $200 million needed to fund the canal reconstruction.

However, the Eastern Tule agency disputes these claims and asserts that it has been abiding by a previous settlement agreement with Friant and Arvin-Edison. The agency states that it has already paid more than $16 million for subsidence-related repairs to the canal. Despite this, the payments are said to be lower than anticipated due to discrepancies in water accounting and the amount of water credits provided to farmers.

In addition to the lawsuit, the Eastern Tule agency faces the possibility of probation under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The agency’s groundwater plan was deemed inadequate, and a hearing is scheduled for September. The continued sinking of the Friant-Kern Canal is seen as evidence that unsustainable pumping practices are still prevalent in the Tule subbasin.

As the legal battle unfolds, the future of the Friant-Kern Canal and the water supply for agricultural communities in Tulare County remains uncertain. The consequences of overpumping groundwater are not only detrimental to the canal but also pose a threat to the long-term sustainability of the region’s water resources.