Colusa County took the first step in a five-year process to create a local agency to manage groundwater aquifers in response to a state law passed in September.

The Colusa County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency on June 16, joining at least two other GSAs in the county, after the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was signed into California law in September.

The newly created GSA will work with irrigation districts, water companies and entities from neighboring counties to create standards and policies for the nine identifiable groundwater basins and sub-basins in the county, board chair Mark Marshall said.

"It's not going to happen overnight, but we've been working on this for a number of years," Marshall said. "Our fear is the state is going to come in and want to take over the rights and administration of the groundwater — we want to protect that at the local agency level."

What power the GSAs will have, and how much control the local agencies will wield, is still unknown as the state law is a work in progress, Colusa County Water Resources Department coordinator Mary Fahey said.

In addition to the GSA formed by the County of Colusa, two other county agencies have notified the California Department of Water Resources of intent to form a GSA: the Colusa County Water District, and one formed in tandem by the Providence and Princeton-Codora-Glenn irrigation districts.

The three GSAs in the county are meeting during the two-year planning phase before the governance structure must be finalized, during which time they will be evaluating, monitoring and modeling the groundwater situation, Fahey said.

The county already has a groundwater management plan adopted in 2008, but there is little to no enforcement, Fahey said.

The Colusa Subbasin aquifer system spans four different counties and already has seven GSAs listed on the Department of Water Resources website, not including the newly formed Colusa County GSA.

"The old plans are mostly written to manage along county boundaries, but with the new legislation we have to manage the aquifers as a whole, and those do not stop at county lines," Fahey said.

During a non-drought year, approximately 20 percent of the county's water use is from groundwater, but that number goes up during times of drought. That is why it is important aquifers are replenished to ensure there is a backup supply when surface water is short, Fahey said.

The Department of Water Resources has money available for facilitation services that the Colusa County Water Resources Department applied for to help coordinate meetings between the various GSAs, Fahey said.

"We all have to cooperate, work together and work with the state to prove our plans are along the same lines," Fahey said. "It's still very early in the process. We don't even know what the GSAs are going to really look like yet."

CONTACT Reporter Kirk Barron at 749-4796.

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