Our View: Ward good pick for water czar

January 14, 2014 

Stapley water

Groundwater is pumped into a Turlock Irrigation District canal near the Taylor Substation off Taylor Road in Denair.

GARTH STAPLEY — The Modesto Bee Buy Photo

We’re not sure whether to send congratulations or condolences to Walt Ward, the newly appointed water czar of Stanislaus County. The Board of Supervisors made his appointment as the water resources manager official Tuesday morning. Ward is both an obvious and excellent choice. Few people know more about Stanislaus County water (above or below ground) than Ward. With his background, what he doesn’t know he’ll learn quickly. For 17 years he worked for Modesto Irrigation District, becoming MID’s top water authoriity. He might be just a bit wonkish, but that could serve him well as he works with 21 Water Advisory Committee members to forge a countywide groundwater policy recommendation – hopefully with teeth. That committee will include well drillers, politicians and farmers and be chaired by Supervisor Tim DeMartini. Diplomacy will be required.

No matter how difficult, the job is important. We’re in a drought and growers across the county are pumping more groundwater than ever – many to put on newly planted nut trees in which they have invested heavily. As they pump, water tables fall and home wells are going dry. Water activist Jerry Cadagan has threatened to sue the county if it doesn’t revoke 61 drilling permits it has already issued and stop issuing new permits. Supervisor Vito Chiesa says the committee is moving at warp speed, but that might not be fast enough.

Another challenge is language in Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget which earmarks nearly $12 million to chase down “regional authorities (that) are unable or unwilling to sustainably manage groundwater basins.” As we said, congratulations and condolences, Walt. Now get to work.

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