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Your Choice: Cut Off One Arm, or They'll Take Both!

There will be a limit on how much you can pump, or there will be a premium.

Apr 16, 2014

We knew it was coming. Only the blind couldn't see. Your groundwater will be regulated. There will be a limit on how much you can pump, or there will be a premium.

It's no secret how we got to where we are. After politicians and bureaucrats took the surface water, what was a farmer to do? Groundwater was all that was left. So, farmers are using it. It's a politically created emergency, and you know the mantra. Don't let a serious crisis go to waste.

We all know it can't go on, but it's either pump or stop farming. Most choose to go on somehow, hoping for the best next year, hoping for water from the sky because our political leaders have failed us.

Right now there is nothing to stop farmers from pumping water from under their own land, but it's going to change. How will it change? We think we see how it will unfold.

The plan is basically to have local water agencies come up with their own groundwater management plans. They already are supposed to have updated AB3030 plans. If the local water districts don't implement their plans, the state will have the right to come in and manage the water. There is nothing in place at this time to allow them to do so, but don't think they aren't working on it.

Even the Association of California Water Agencies came out with recommendations
to solve the state's groundwater crisis, among them were pumping limits and pumping fees (taxes).

An editorial in the Mercury News demands that "now it's up to the Legislature to send a bill to Gov. Jerry Brown."

This will set off a legal battle, but if past court experience is any indicator, can we predict how it will end?

Your choice is simple: Cut off one arm, or they'll cut off both.


Editorial: California should embrace breakthrough on groundwater protection

Mercury News

In a remarkable turn of events, California's devastating drought could produce one of the state's biggest environmental breakthroughs in decades.

Lawmakers need to seize the moment and enact groundwater management legislation to halt the draining of the aquifer under the state's most fertile farmland, a deepening crisis that the Mercury News' Lisa Krieger vividly described in a Page One story in March.

For years, powerful agriculture groups have fought efforts to deal with the state's depleted groundwater, resisting any limits on farmers pumping from wells on their property. But on Monday, when the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) released recommendations to solve the state's groundwater crisis, limits and pump taxes were part of the plan.

Inspecting a  groundwater pump  in San Lorenzo, Calif., 2007. (Bay Area News Group)
Inspecting a groundwater pump in San Lorenzo, Calif., 2007. (Bay Area News Group)

And the water agencies from agricultural regions in the Central Valley, the most sensitive to farming interests, are on board.

The premise comes straight out of Santa Clara County's playbook: Establish a pump tax or other fee on wells that gives water agencies the money to put water back underground in wet years, recharging the water table and stopping the subsidence of land that can result from overpumping.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District has been doing this since 1964, which is why the valley doesn't have the groundwater problems common in the Central Valley.

It could even begin to reverse the decades-long pattern of degradation in the San Joaquin Valley. Hats off to the farmers and water agency leaders behind it. Now it's up to the Legislature to send a bill to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Some property owners in Santa Clara County and elsewhere are challenging water agencies' right to tax what they pump from wells on their own land. Those challenges will increase if the state adopts the ACWA plan, but it's a legal fight worth taking on.

California's groundwater is a statewide resource that needs to be regulated. Subsidence from overpumping risks permanent changes in the underground flow and severe damage to roads, bridges and canals as land sinks.

The water table in the Tulare Basin, for example, has dropped more than 20 feet a year from 2005 to 2010 from excessive pumping. But Tulare County farmers show no signs of exercising self-restraint: They applied for an additional 182 well permits in the first month and a half of this drought year.

Besides a pump tax, water agencies support placing limits on how much can be pumped when the ground starts to sink. That is crucial to protecting the aquifer and surface construction.

Lawmakers also should approve increasing the height of several dams to store more water in wet years. This can dramatically increase storage with less environmental and legal anguish than building new dams on wild rivers.

The Association of California Water Agencies' proposals represent a real breakthrough. The Legislature needs to act.


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