Management of water in a severely overdrafted region of the Valley

To us, this story of an adjudicated water settlement between Consolidated Irrigation District and the City of Selma was the most important of the day in the Valley news. Perhaps this is because it represents our near future here in Merced County, which still has a relatively decent water table. However, the treat of more deep ripped pastureland converted into orchards with gigantic pumps that tend to dry up their neighbors' wells by firms whose investment strategies might not be primarily to make a profit in agriculture; they may prefer the losses customized for the portfolios of investors that wouldn't know the difference between an almond tree and an apple tree.
Perhaps the greatest threat to groundwater in the Valley are the imperious, unregulated demands of Private Investment Itself, the Holy of Holies to planners, local elected officials and the local landowners and banks who own them in our brave new plutocracy. It is always going to produce jobs...and if it does, they don't last. Politicians parrot the Building Industy Association line that houses take less water per acre than crops, a corollary of their their fundamental argument that residential growth is inevitable. They consider this either good or Fate. It is curious that many of this churchy crowd as local elected officials believe in pagan Fate. Or is it really the Will of God that the entire Valley be sucked dry until the last carpenter dies of thirst in the tumbleweed?
Badlands Journal editorial board

Fresno Bee

Water deal allows Selma to approve housing projects…Pablo Lopez

SELMA The city and the Consolidated Irrigation District have reached an agreement that ends a lengthy legal battle over whether Selma could approve housing development without recharging the groundwater supply.

Mayor Ken Grey and Robert Nielsen Jr., president of the irrigation district's board, shook hands Monday at City Hall on the deal that will raise water rates for residents but also ensure the city will have an adequate supply of drinking water as it pursues housing and commercial projects.

"This agreement benefits everyone, city and rural alike, by providing a secure future to our water supply," Grey said.

With the agreement, Selma can restart the process of approving housing tracts that have been on hold for years, City Manager D-B Heusser said.

Two housing projects comprise 40 acres apiece, Heusser said. The city also is working with developer Cliff Tutelian on a commercial project west of Highway 99 that could include a hotel, large box stores, an auto dealership and other businesses.

"That's a lot of new jobs," Heusser said.

The dispute began in 2006 when the irrigation district challenged Selma's approval process for a number of housing projects at the height of a development boom. The district contended the conversion of agricultural land to single-family homes would drain groundwater supplies and that Selma, which relies exclusively on groundwater for its needs, should help pay for additional groundwater recharge facilities.

The city, however, contended the irrigation district didn't have legal standing because its sole mission is to supply crops with water from the Kings River.

But in March this year, the Fifth District Court of Appeal agreed with Fresno County Superior Court Judge Mark Snauffer's ruling that the irrigation district has legal standing to sue Selma. Snauffer concluded that Selma had failed to consider the cumulative environmental effects from increased groundwater pumping for housing developments.

Initially, Selma planned to ask the state Supreme Court to overturn the appellate court ruling. But Grey said Monday the agreement ends the legal war after expected approval from the state Public Utilities Commission.

In general, the city received from the irrigation district a 70-acre parcel, called the Rockwell ponding basin, on Floral Avenue west of Freeway 99. The district will continue to use the ponding basin to recharge groundwater supplies. The city gets to turn the basin into a regional park with sports fields, hiking trails and other amenities, Grey said.

In return the city gave the district a 40-acre parcel near Bethel and Nebraska avenues, just west of Selma Valley Golf Course, that will be used as a ponding basin, too, the mayor said.

In addition, Selma will help buy more land for ponding basins, Nielsen said.

Selma residents will see about a $1 increase on their water bill in the first year of the agreement, Grey said. The rates will go up each year, but they could be lessened if the city and irrigation district gets grants, the mayor said.

"Groundwater recharge is necessary," Nielsen said, adding that regional studies show that the water tables are dropping throughout the Kings River Basin.

The cities of Kingsburg and Parlier have already approved similar agreements with the district, Nielsen said. The cities of Fowler and Sanger are in discussions with the district, he said.