Landowners in rural San Joaquin County served by the Woodbridge Irrigation District will not face the possibility of extreme annual fees for pumping water.

In 2016, WID elected to establish itself as a Groundwater Sustainability Agency in response to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014.

The act requires local governments and water agencies to halt overdrafting and bring groundwater basins into balanced levels of pumping and recharge.

It also required local agencies to form groundwater sustainability agencies and adopt sustainability plans by 2020.

But last December, WID notified the Department of Water Resources that it would withdraw its status as a GSA.

According to a news update on its website, the WID said the best way it could support efforts to improve groundwater conditions was to focus on providing surface water and enhance groundwater recharge projects.

The irrigation district encompasses 40,000 acres of land from north Stockton to near the community of Thornton, of which 11,000 acres of farmland are supplied with water from the Mokelumne River.

The district also provides surface water to the city of Lodi and parts of Stockton.

“Their constituents were put at a humongous risk financially, because the next option was either the county step in and be the GSA, which was a formidable task because that would have increased our administrative expenses,” county public works director Kris Balaji said Tuesday.

“Or the state would take over and impose fees that would grow to be onerous,” he added.

According to SGMA guidelines, when an agency withdraws its status as a GSA, lands and geographical boundaries within a water district revert to the authority and jurisdiction of the county.

On Tuesday, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors was poised to decline the status as a presumed GSA for the water district’s customers.

San Joaquin County Public Works staff said taking over the coverage area would have increased the county’s area of responsibility, as well as increase financial and legal responsibilities.

When a county elects not to opt in as a presumed GSA of a particular area, control reverts to the State Water Resources Control Board, according to SGMA guidelines.

Had the SWRCB taken over, landowners extracting groundwater from wells on their own properties would have been required to submit annual pumping reports for the previous water year, from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, according to its guidelines.

A report would have been required to be submitted for each well on a landowner’s property. In addition, reports could only be submitted electronically.

The SWRCB also would have implemented fees on landowners based on the amount of groundwater extracted during the previous water year.

On Tuesday, county public works director Kris Balaji said there was no need for discussion as WID in recent weeks has decided to re-establish itself as the GSA for its customers.

“I applaud the WID board for taking action to relieve their constituents of taking on those onerous fees,” Balaji said.

Andy Christensen, spokesman for the water district, was unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon.

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