Stanislaus County leaders recommend appointments to groundwater committee

kcarlson@modbee.comJanuary 31, 2014 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
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  • On the agenda

    The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, at 1010 10th St. in downtown Modesto. The following items are on the agenda:

    •  The State of the County speech by board Chairman Jim DeMartini

    •  Creation of city-county liaison committee to maintain good relations with Turlock

    •  Final acceptance of renovations for the Psychiatric Health Facility in Ceres

Stanislaus County leaders on Friday released recommended appointments to a groundwater study committee that strike a balance among farming, urban and water district interests.

Besides giving perpetual seats to the county Farm Bureau and Agricultural Advisory Board, the recommended appointments to the 21-member Water Advisory Committee include council members from Modesto, Ceres, Turlock and Oakdale. The county also intends to appoint members associated with irrigation districts, wineries, nut orchards, ranching and well drilling.

Supervisors are scheduled to approve the appointments at their meeting Tuesday. The roster released Friday does not include nominees for two community seats on the committee. Those selections will be made Tuesday.

The county is forming the Water Advisory Committee to study groundwater problems and develop policies for managing the resource. A controversial out-of-county transfer four years ago sparked an effort to write a county ordinance with groundwater regulations. Today, the drought and an explosion of tree planting and well drilling in the eastern area of the county are adding a sense of urgency for stronger policies.

Committee members will include Stanislaus County Farm Bureau Executive Director Wayne Zipser and Tom Orvis from the Agricultural Advisory Board.

Supervisor Bill O’Brien recommends appointing Neil Hudson of the Stanislaus Water Coalition, Oakdale Councilman Donald Peterson and Louis Brichetto, of Oakdale, who was among growers who took out permits for large wells in the past several months.

Supervisor Vito Chiesa wants to appoint Turlock Irrigation District board member Rob Santos, Turlock Councilman Forrest White and Francisco Canela of West Coast Grape Farming, a division of Bronco Wine Co.

Supervisor Terry Withrow’s nominees are: Thomas Smith, who does land acquisition and vineyard development for E.&J. Gallo Winery; Richard Gemperle, a partner in Gemperle Farms and a hydrologist; and Modesto Irrigation District board member Larry Byrd.

Modesto Councilman Bill Zoslocki, Jim Mortensen and Sean Roddy are the nominees of Supervisor Dick Monteith. Roddy is a well-drilling veteran. Mortensen was a plant operations manager for Del Monte and has served on the MID water advisory committee and Modesto Chamber of Commerce land-use panel.

County Board Chairman Jim DeMartini wants to appoint political consultant Michael Lynch, Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra and Raynold Kablanow, a hydrogeologist for Ground Zero Analysis Inc. of Modesto.

DeMartini and county water resources manager Walter Ward will serve as nonvoting committee members. The panel will have 19 voting members, including 12 appointed to two-year seats and five to one-year seats. Supervisors propose to give the one-year seats to Brichetto, Byrd, Kablanow, White and Zoslocki.

On Tuesday, supervisors will select two names from the remaining list of 28 applicants to fill the other vacancies.

Officials have said the committee will hold public meetings. Before starting work on a needs assessment, it first will elect a chairman and choose a nonvoting technical committee of local experts. The panel is expected to recommend groundwater policies and directives to the Board of Supervisors.

In late October, Stanislaus became the 29th county in California to adopt a groundwater ordinance. It has language for restricting out-of-county transfers, or pumping to replace transferred surface water, but has numerous exemptions for water districts. The meaning of its prohibition on water “mining” is considered debatable.

The county Department of Environmental Resources is expected to formulate a process for reviewing permits for groundwater transfers, which could be granted if applicants show they are not harming wells on nearby property.

Lawyers for two environmental groups filed a lawsuit this week charging the county has illegally issued dozens of well permits without first requiring studies on the impact on wildlife and natural resources. The plaintiffs are Protecting Our Water and Environmental Resources and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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