Our View: Well policy problems are statewide

July 31, 2013 

We're not alone. Around California there are multiple situations where some landowners are pumping so much groundwater that other landowners' wells are going dry or are producing only a trickle of water.

Here in Stanislaus County, the biggest concern focuses on wells drilled for the massive new almond orchards on the east. In the Paso Robles area, a similar conflict has surfaced; only the issue relates to large vineyards.

There is a greater sense of urgency there, and next week the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will consider an urgent ordinance that could limit new or expanded crop production that relied on water from the Paso Robles groundwater basin or a conversion from dry farm or grazing land to irrigated crops. New home building in unincorporated areas also would be limited.

Opponents to the Paso Robles plan don't want limitations, but would rather look for ways to drill deeper wells or reduce conflict by voluntary water sharing.

In September, Stanislaus County supervisors will consider a far less restrictive proposal that would ban groundwater mining or the sale of surface water outside the county. However, the Stanislaus recommendation exempts all land within irrigation districts and cities, which means it applies only to the eastern and western hills. And there is no mention — at least not yet — of limiting any kind of crop production or well drilling.

Meanwhile, groundwater mining — pumping groundwater for export — is a major issue in the northern Mojave Desert, where Cadiz Inc. proposes to pull water from beneath its holdings in San Bernardino County and sell it to cities in Orange County. The issue has a familiar ring: the threat of reducing groundwater supplies for ranchers and local residents because someone else is pumping vast amounts.

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