Local groundwater agency plans to protect domestic wells

North Forks Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency leads the efforts to keep residential wells flowing across Fresno and Kings counties with a million-dollar program

North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency, in yellow at the southern edge of the Kings subbasin, is spearheading a program to protect domestic wells in its boundaries. (SJV Water)
Jesse Vad
Published July 11, 2024  • 
9:30 am

FRESNO COUNTY – A million-dollar program to keep residential wells flowing across a swath of southern Fresno and northern Kings counties is getting underway through a program spearheaded by one of the area’s groundwater sustainability agencies.

The plan is being funded through land assessments of $6 per acre now, maxing out at $18 per acre in 2027, charged to growers in the North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA).

“There are pieces (of the plan) that took some arm twisting,” said Justin Mendes, General Manager of the North Fork Kings GSA. “From the ag community, initially the thing was, ‘Wow this is gonna be super expensive.’”

As it turned out, the bill didn’t sting too bad.

Along with consistent assessment payments from growers, the GSA got some unexpected savings on a water recharge project by partnering with Fresno County. Managers initially thought they would have to spend $3 million to buy a chunk of land from the county for the project but ended up partnering with the county and didn’t have to spend that money, said Mendes. 

So, when Mendes came to the GSA in 2022, he inherited a “sizable reserve.” 

After the state approved the subbasin’s groundwater plan in 2023, Mendes focused on how to best use the GSA’s money. 

“How can we shift these reserves to focus on these needed corrective actions?” said Mendes. “The number one thing was the domestic well mitigation plan.”

Though this program will only be available to residents in the North Kings GSA, it is a key piece of the Kings groundwater subbasin’s larger plan to bring the area’s groundwater consumption into compliance with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Even with state approval, water managers are required to provide annual updates. And under SGMA, damage to domestic wells is a major no-no.

It’s difficult to say exactly how many at-risk domestic wells there are across the subbasin, said Mendes. But he estimates there are about 225 in North Fork Kings GSA alone.    

At-risk domestic wells are typically more shallow and serve homes in disadvantaged communities, which include Lanare, Laton and Riverdale in North Fork Kings.

Since last year and this year have been good water years, the GSAs have some breathing room to make sure they get this program right, said Mendes. North Fork Kings has seen an average groundwater rebound of five feet, he said. 

“We don’t think anyone’s in immediate danger right now,” said Mendes. 

Staff are going to start working on implementation of the program which will probably include interim water provisions for those who have dry wells such as, bottled water delivery or a water storage tank. Those interim solutions will be provided until the GSA staff can get a well driller to either drill the well deeper or drill an entirely new well. 

Well owners will have to register their wells with the GSA to see if they’re eligible for the program. More than 100 domestic wells have been registered as of July 1. Residents can register their wells online at HERE or by calling the GSA at: (559) 632-7032.

The GSA will be hiring a staff member to oversee the program, said Mendes.  

​​SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley, www.sjvwater.org.

Jesse Vad
SJV Water