Madera Co. ditches plan to tinker with groundwater penalties

Madera County was weighing a tiered approach that would see egregious over-pumpers of groundwater penalized more harshly.

Madera County is keeping its recently approved current structure for penalizing farmers who blow past their water allocation, forgoing an option to implement a tiered penalty structure. 

The decision came during Tuesday’s Madera County Board of Supervisors meeting and maintains the status quo for the Chowchilla, Delta-Mendota and Madera Subbasins. 


The backstory: Last September, the Board adopted a new penalty structure for water overdrafts, setting the 2023 fine at $100 per acre-foot in excess of the allotted amount. The penalty would increase by $100 per year and cap out at $500 in 2027 and beyond. 

  • With around 40 percent of the farm units in the Chowchilla Subbasin over their allocation and 30 percent in the Madera Subbasin over, the county first discussed changing the penalty structure to further disincentivize overdrafting earlier in January, with the ultimate decision set for Tuesday. 

The proposal: County staff presented a tiered proposal to the Board, which would have worked as follows for individual farm units: 

  • 1-15 percent above allocation would be a $100 per acre-foot in excess fine
  • 16-30 percent above allocation would be a $250 per acre-foot in excess fine
  • 31 percent above allocation would be a $500 per acre-foot in excess fine

The decision: The Board shot down the tiered proposal by a 2-3 vote, opting to keep the September decision for at least 2023. Supervisors Rob Poythress and Leticia Gonzalez cast the two votes in favor of the tiered system. 

What they’re saying: Poythress, arguing in favor, presented the tiered structure as one that would penalize anyone grossly exceeding their allocation. 

  • “It’s evident to me that if you’re 30 percent over your allocation or more, there hasn’t been much effort in working towards being under your allocation,” Poythress said. “And that’s saying that the small minority of people who are grossly over their allocation, they count more than everybody else who’s within your allocation or close to it or working to that.” 
  • Supervisor Jordan Wamhoff spoke on the side of the majority, preaching patience as the county begins to see the results from its September decision. 
  • “I think us moving the goalposts when this was already set in September, I think the natural progression is people are going to calibrate and get within their allocation,” Wamhoff said.
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