The New Groundwater Regs
We don't see anything yet that tells us farmers can't pump water from under their own land to water their own crops.
Sep 02, 2014
The new groundwater regulations passed by the California Senate and Assembly are directed at coming up with sustainable plans. According to KQED, these plans are to be put together by "single water districts, or a coalition of water agencies and county officials, all connected to a groundwater basin."
Not all groundwater basins are being treated equally and "groundwater basins that are considered in critical overdraft have until 2020 to write their sustainable groundwater management plans, while high- or medium-priority basins have until 2022. Low-priority basins would not be required to participate."
So, people are to begin writing plans now that will begin going into effect in 2020 or 2022. Until then, as far as we can see. current state law remains where it is now. And under current law "landowners can essentially pump as much groundwater as they want to, from under their property."
We don't see anything yet that tells us farmers can't pump water from under their own land to water their own crops. We will continue to watch for further analysis to see how others interpret the new regulations. But, right now things remain the same as they are while we're in the planning stage.
When the plans are put into play things are going to change. And how. But not until then. So, when we see articles like the one below in the Modesto Bee by John Booker who says "our precarious groundwater situation is like a wildfire burning out of control in our foothills. The issuance of hundreds of new industrial-size well-drilling permits is like attempting to extinguish the flames by using gasoline." His solution: "it seems prudent for the county to place an immediate hold on issuance of all new large wells, including wells that have been permitted but have not started construction."
Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea has also floated this idea. But, we have a question for those who are in favor of this: are you willing to defend your actions in a court of law when a farmer sues the county for the loss of his crop because you prohibited him from drilling on his own land for his own crop, which is currently allowed under the state law of California? It looks to us that counties would be setting themselves up for a lot of lawsuits. And a lot of losses.
Better think twice about this. Farmers are in trouble for the long term, but right now we think they can still pump and anyone trying to stop them on a county level will be in legal and financial trouble right now.
Time to put a hold on all new ag wells
Stanislaus County is facing one of the most profound droughts in California’s history. Meanwhile, the population and irrigated acreage of the county continues to grow.
You cannot view any media source without being inundated with stories about the severity of our drought, or about a neighbor’s well going dry.
Groundwater is being pumped, well-drilling permits are being issued, and large out-of-town conglomerates are buying or leasing nonirrigated rangeland and planting orchards at the fastest rate in our county’s history. This race to cash in on unheard-of profits is reminiscent of the Gold Rush. Then, like now, little regard was given to the consequences of actions, or to the harm that might come to others. “Get rich quick” was the driving force.
Our precarious groundwater situation is like a wildfire burning out of control in our foothills. The issuance of hundreds of new industrial-size well-drilling permits is like attempting to extinguish the flames by using gasoline.
We are in the midst of the perfect storm!
Oakdale Irrigation District’s well records from 2005 to 2013 show water levels on a continuous decline. We are pumping more water out of our aquifers than can be sustained. These steady declines were occurring before the county issued hundreds of new well permits to water new orchards. These orchards are nearly 100 percent dependent on groundwater to survive, and these pumps are capable of pulling billions of gallons of water out of our underground aquifers.
As more wells go dry and water levels continue to drop, will real estate agents be mandated to inform buyers that they are purchasing land in an area with an unreliable water source? Could property values start to decline? If so, will this have a negative impact on the county’s revenues? Will vital services be reduced or eliminated due to a lack of funding?
What about the emotional and financial harm to the residents of our area? Is there anyone in Stanislaus County who won’t ultimately have to pay for the consequences of all these new wells? What happens when the wells of small communities start going dry? Will the county and large growers on nonirrigated land pay the costs for residents to drill new wells?
The bottom line: Is it fair for others to profit at the direct expense of our residents? What responsibility does the county bear in protecting the interests of constituents? These questions need to be answered.
Given the urgency and severity of the situation, it seems prudent for the county to place an immediate hold on issuance of all new large wells, including wells that have been permitted but have not started construction. This hold should remain in place until a California Environmental Quality Act report is done to determine the impact these wells will have on the long-term sustainability of groundwater levels and until we understand the impact on the viability of our underground water supply.
Booker is a member of the Stanislaus Water Coalition.
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