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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 17th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 20 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 20

Cuyama passes pay-to-pump groundwater sustainability structure

By Kasey Bubnash

Cuyama landowners will soon have to pay to pump groundwater, a decision that some say will place the burden of Cuyama’s dwindling water supply largely on farmers’ shoulders. 

At a board of directors meeting on July 10, the Cuyama Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency voted to approve a pay-to-pump funding structure, in which landowners are charged extraction fees each time they pump water from Cuyama’s groundwater basin. The pumping fees will fund the sustainability agency’s continued efforts to implement a groundwater sustainability plan as ordered by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, a state law that requires critically overdrafted basins to submit plans for groundwater sustainability by Jan. 31, 2020. 

Cuyama is one of 21 basins in California that are considered to be in critical overdraft—there are 515 basins total in the state—meaning more water is being pumped and used than is being replenished by rain. Overdraft has been an issue in Cuyama for decades, yet water pumping has actually increased over the years as the area’s agricultural production has expanded. 

“I think the pumping extraction fee is the fairest way to allocate costs for the [Groundwater Sustainability Agency],” Cuyama resident Roberta Jaffe wrote in an email to the Sun. “Thus the implementation of the plan will be paid for by those who use the most water.”

Jaffe serves on Cuyama’s Standing Advisory Committee, a group of Cuyama residents who meet and make recommendations to the sustainability agency, but its members have no voting power. 

While the sustainability agency also mulled over a property tax funding system, Jaffe said in a previous interview with the Sun that the pay-to-pump model will work to both fund the implementation of the sustainability plan while encouraging the biggest water users to pump less. 

Jaffe is a farmer herself. She and her husband operate Condors Hope Ranch, a small wine grape and olive farm. Unlike many local farms today, Jaffe said she dry farms, the traditional farming technique used before irrigation technology was developed. Jaffe waters her crops almost entirely using rain water captured in the soil during the wet season. 

In years like this past one, which saw a lot of rain, Jaffe said she doesn’t have to pump water to irrigate at all. 

If the sustainability agency had approved the property tax funding structure, Jaffe would have likely had to pay as much as other neighboring farmers who pump huge amounts of water for irrigation purposes each year. 

However, some say not all crops can be dry farmed, and fees on pumping could lead to lower water usage and thus to fewer crops. That could, in turn, lead to the loss of some agriculture jobs in the area and impact major businesses. 

While those economic impacts need to be addressed, Jaffe said the decision will be good for Cuyama as a whole. 

“For farmers like us,” she said, “it’ll hopefully enhance our continued farming here because we’d have a monitoring system and we’ll be able to sustain the water supply.” 

—Kasey Bubnash

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