A County Farm Bureau Is Suing California Over Groundwater, It’s “An Act of State Overreach”

By: Julia Mehalko | Published: May 21, 2024

A local California county has filed a lawsuit against the state over their monitoring of the county’s groundwater, which they state is “an act of State overreach.”

This lawsuit comes as the state government has tried to work on managing its water supplies in a more beneficial way, especially after recent years-long droughts California experienced.

Kings County vs California

The Kings County Farm Bureau, alongside two landowners, has filed a lawsuit against California.

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The Kings County courthouse seen in the daytime behind green grass and trees.

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This lawsuit comes after the State Water Resources Control Board decided to put the Tulare Lake Subbasin on probationary status. This status now allows California state officials to monitor the groundwater, rather than local officials.

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California’s Right to Monitor Groundwater

California’s right to monitor groundwater — rather than letting local county officials do so, as is normal — comes after the passing of a 2014 groundwater law.

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A California lake seen in the daytime by green grass and trees.

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This legislation requires local officials and communities to create their own long-term plans to help monitor groundwater, especially during potential years of drought. Local governments are also supposed to create plans to keep this groundwater flowing and cease overpumping.

Ongoing Problems

This law was passed back in 2014 because of ongoing water problems the state experienced, particularly during periods of drought.

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A close-up of dry cracked ground.

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Overpumping of water led to water quality problems, as well as land sinking in certain areas of the state. While this law has been on the books for 10 years now, Kings County is the first area of the state to go through this new process since the legislation’s passing.

Water in the San Joaquin Valley

Perhaps most notably, Kings County is part of the San Joaquin Valley, an incredibly fertile area of California that lies between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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Many cows seen on a farm in Tulare, California.

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This agricultural area of the county contains about 150,000 people. The San Joaquin Valley has very rich soil, which allows many crops to thrive in the area.

An Area Susceptible to Drought

Unfortunately, even though the soil of this area is very fertile and rich, the San Joaquin Valley is considered susceptible to drought.

Crops seen in Sacramento Valley, California in the daytime.

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Water shortages can completely decimate crops and how farmers in the region work. This may be one reason why the state has decided to take matters into its own hands.

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Why California Has Taken Over Groundwater Monitoring

According to the state, officials have decided to put their own people in charge of monitoring Kings County groundwater and its Tulare Lake Subbasin because of the county’s lack of a sustainable plan.

A close-up of a vineyard in California with mountains seen in the distance.

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Instead of creating a long-term plan to better manage its water, state officials say that Kings County hasn’t accurately done what they are required to by law.

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State Overreach

However, Kings County officials disagree. The Farm Bureau has filed this lawsuit and alleged that this move is “an act of State overreach.”

A close-up look at the California State Capitol building in the daytime.

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The bureau has also stated that this move could harm the agricultural community and its hundreds of thousands of people.

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The State Stands Firm

State officials have stood firm, as they believe the 2014 law gives them the right to take over and monitor the water being pumped out of local counties — especially if the counties aren’t doing what they are required to under law.

A California water reservoir seen in the daytime by green grass and hills.

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In a statement, the state board said, “The board is confident that it correctly applied its authorities to protect vital groundwater supplies.”

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Years of Issues

This lawsuit comes after years of issues seen in the San Joaquin Valley, thanks to ongoing droughts. Even though the past few years have seen groundwater levels rise, recent droughts have still left their mark on water supplies.

Green crops seen in California on a hill in the daytime.

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In 2023, even after a wet winter, thousands of people in the Valley still saw their water wells go dry.

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Dry Water Wells

These dry water wells are remnants of drought that the Valley and all of California saw in the years prior.

A close-up of dry, cracked ground during a drought.

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However, some of these dry water wells are also the result of the overpumping of aquifers. In 2023, even massive rainfall still left at least 30 well outages, showing how recent rainfalls still haven’t completely helped areas that were left decimated by the drought.

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Groundwater Levels Rise

Groundwater levels in the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere in California have risen, thanks to recent wet winters. However, Jeanine Jones, a drought manager with California’s Department of Water Resources, has said this might not be enough.

A California water reservoir seen behind green hills in the daytime.

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“Just one wet year is nowhere near large enough to refill the amount of groundwater storage that we’ve lost, say, over the last 10 years or more,” Jones explained.

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