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County Considers Response To Drought

MADERA COUNTY – On Mar. 4, the Madera County Board of Supervisors held a meeting which included three agenda items addressing water issues, and considered what proactive steps can be taken now.

Agenda Item #8. Informational Water Workshop to discuss the development of a strategic response to drought conditions as well as future countywide water policies.

This agenda item attracted a large audience. After giving his prologue, Chairman Tom Wheeler opened the workshop to participation by County staff, stakeholders and the public. The Chairman explained that Governor Brown has declared a drought emergency for California, calling for a 20% reduction in water usage statewide. That declaration triggers a series of policies, regulations and actions that control water usage and promote conservation. Each county and city must do its share to reduce demand for water.

The county’s public officials and staff are working closely with water-related stakeholders to coordinate efforts, improve conservation, adopt short-term mitigations and find long-term solutions. Local water is intricately tied into statewide water resources, subject complicated and often conflicting regulations. Several speakers emphasized the importance of being proactive, to retain as much local control as possible rather than ceding oversight to state and federal agencies.

Throughout the presentation, a variety of stakeholders were identified as playing a role, many of which provided speakers for the workshop;

Board of Supervisors

Madera County Road Commission

Madera County Engineering Department

Madera County Planning Department

Madera County Office of Emergency Planning

Madera County Water Advisory Commission

Madera County Flood Control and Water Conservation Agency

Regional Water Management Group

Madera County Irrigation District

Madera County Farm Bureau

Resource Conservation Districts (Coarsegold RCD + Redtop-Chowchilla RCD)

Local, state and federal public parks

Tribal interests

County-managed water districts

Educational Water Usage Association

Privately operated water companies

Individual farmers and real estate developers

Families and businesses

County Engineer Kheng Vang gave the local context of the drought crisis and county actions, summarized in a power point presentation. To view the entire presentation, click on

As to water sources, County Engineer Vang said:

  • U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has dropped Friant Dam allocations to zero, curtailing supply to the county’s irrigation canals and severely impacting local agriculture.
  • Demand is over-drafting available supplies by 150,000 acre-feet.
  • The county’s water table has dropped dramatically — with several examples given, one being the Madera Ranchos – Bonadelle area. (Click image to enlarge)Water table chart
  • January 2014 shows a spike in the number of permits for new, replaced and/or upgraded wells.Applications for well permits Jan 2014

Within Madera County, Supervisors are directing updates to the Regional Groundwater Management Plan and the Integrated Regional Water Management Plan.

To protect and improve county water supplies, the strategies will address land use policies, storm water capture, recharge basins, water reclamation, long-term planning for dams, red tape reduction, and many other methodologies. Each of those strategies requires significant effort to implement, under current regulations. To fund those strategies, the County will pursue grants, bonds, special assessments, impact fees, permit fees and other revenue sources.

Madera County has a population of 150,000. There are 30+ county-managed water districts that serve about 6,000 homes. For those districts, the Supervisors are adopting new rules to restrict water usage, enforced by new fines for violations (see Items #9 and 10, below). Additionally, there are more than a hundred privately managed small water companies, which fall outside of County control. Municipal water is provided by the two incorporated cities, with Madera serving 62,000 residents and Chowchilla serving 18,000 residents. Thousands of rural residents depend on private wells — many of which are suffering from low volume. Agriculture accounts for far and away the heaviest use of water — consuming up to 90% according to some sources (a figure that includes water for environmental protection, others say — details uncertain).

To address the drought crisis, the County Supervisors are considering actions to:

  • Establish a future Local Groundwater Management Agency/Authority.
  • Create a Drought Task Force among County Departments.
  • Develop Payment Plan for connections fees to Special District sewer and water systems.
  • Reduce well permit fees for residential well replacements for impacted residences.
  • Perform public outreach and promote water conservation with media blitz and other methods.
  • Mandate reduced outdoor watering schedules for Special District customers, enforced by penalties.
  • Encourage voluntary reductions to watering schedules and water consumption countywide.
  • Shift code enforcement priorities to promoting and enforcing water conservation policies.
  • Improve opportunities for brush control to reduce water loss by evaporation.

Each Supervisor commented on how the drought is impacting his Supervisorial District. Several County staff and public officials gave input, including Johannes Hoevertsz for the Road Commission, Janet Stanovich for the Office of Emergency Planning and Norman Allinder for the Planning Department.

Other speakers included: Donald Brumfield for Educational Water Usage Association; Anja Raudabauch for the Madera County Farm Bureau; Jeannie Habben for the Central Sierra Watershed Committee; Jack Fry for the Redtop-Chowchilla Resource Conservation District; Tom Willey for T&D Willey Farms; Ken Harrington for Yosemite Springs Park Utilities. Additionally, a variety of private citizens gave comments, mostly to acknowledge the drought problems, while some expressed reservations about certain strategies being discussed.

Chairman Wheeler closed the workshop by saying this was just a first step, to gather general feedback from the public. The County plans to continue with future workshops and study sessions.

Agenda Item #9: Hearing to consider the approval of an Emergency Ordinance amending Section 13.55.025 of the Madera County Code, pertaining to Water Shortages, for the preservation of public health and safety, due to extremely dry weather conditions locally and throughout the State of California.

Agenda Item #10: Discussion and consideration of approval of a Resolution adopting Stage 3 Demand Reduction Measures for Madera County Special Districts, and increase penalties for violations to $75.00, $125.00 and $175.00.

These paired sessions were postponed until after lunch, which reduced attendance to a handful. For these items, the Supervisors were sitting as Directors of the Madera County Special Districts and Service Areas that provide water services to various neighborhoods in the county.

Item #9 and #10 actions only affect customers in the county-managed Service Areas and Special Districts that provide water services. By approving the agenda items, the Supervisors acting as District Directors addressed criteria for the “Special Districts Demand Reduction Measures” — defined as

Stage 1, Normal Conditions

Stage 2, 5%-10% Target Reductions

Stage 3, 10%-25% Target Reductions

Stage 4, 25%-50% Target Reductions

By now adopting the Stage 3 criteria below, the Supervisors are reducing the number of days district customers can do outdoor watering, increasing penalties for violations, and eliminating warnings before penalties are imposed.Outdoor watering penalties and guidelines

Only two speakers came from the public, both as private citizens.

  • Marc Sobel was concerned about procedural technicalities on how the Resolution and Ordinance were being handled, prompting discussion with the County Counsel on the proper process. Sobel also objected that all service districts are being treated with a broad brush, when only some of them have water shortage issues.
  • My comments gave overall support to the conservation efforts. I did point out that the Stage 3 penalties could create hardships. I urged stronger communication to the Service Area and Water District customers — as many may not be aware of the changes and penalties. And I added that landlords have little or no ability to control water usage by their tenants, yet would be vulnerable to stiff penalties if their tenants are cited for watering violations.

In their discussions, the Supervisors/District Directors acknowledged those issues. Nonetheless, they unanimously adopted both the revised Ordinance and Resolution without amending the language. Chairman Wheeler did comment that there could be flexibility in how the penalties would be imposed, depending on individual circumstances. But he said the County needs strong language on the books for enforcing flagrant violators. County Engineer Vang said staff is developing an outreach plan to let water customers know about the changes. The Supervisors/District Directors approved enhancements to that plan.

(Sarah Rah was trained under senior professionals in the fields of appraisal, property management, real estate economics, land development, urban planning, construction and grant writing. For more than three decades, she has led research teams on assignments in 11 states from New York to Hawaii)

Sarah Rah

North Fork CA 93643


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