Stanislaus County’s Water Advisory Committee to meet Wednesday

jnsbranti@modbee.comFebruary 24, 2014 

— The continuing drought and concerns about declining groundwater levels will set the stage Wednesday for the first meeting of Stanislaus County’s Water Advisory Committee.

The panel of 21 appointed members is expected to make recommendations about what should be done to protect the county’s groundwater supply and to manage its water resources, but its specific objectives and timeline haven’t been established.

Sarge Green, program director for the California Water Institute at California State University, Fresno, will get the process started with an overview of groundwater.

Green said he wants to provide a foundation to help committee members better understand groundwater and how it flows.

Cities and residents throughout Stanislaus County depend on groundwater for drinking and all other domestic and commercial needs. And agriculture increasingly is tapping groundwater for irrigation, drilling hundreds of new wells last year as dry pastures were converted into new orchards.

The expansion of groundwater pumping by farmers has sparked worries about depleting the county’s aquifers. Some community leaders have called for a moratorium on new agricultural wells, and some environmental groups have filed lawsuits seeking a halt to well drilling until environmental impacts are mitigated.

During a phone interview Monday, Green said there’s a “misconception” about landowner rights to pump groundwater. He said groundwater rights are a “shared right … and that brings equity into the discussion.”

“You have to give it the test of reasonableness,” said Green, noting how landowners cannot simply pump all the water they want if doing so hurts others.

Green likened groundwater to a community bank account that can be used during drought years, but he said Stanislaus’ account “is getting a little dry” because so much water is being pumped.

Overdrafting an aquifer, Green warned, can cause land to start sinking, as already is happening in Madera and southern Merced counties. He said falling groundwater levels and the permanent land subsidence that can cause is a concern for the entire San Joaquin Valley.

“There are solutions out there,” Green assured. He said one of the first steps is to establish benchmarks so progress can be measured. “We can do a lot better job with groundwater and making it more sustainable through cooperation.”

The Water Advisory Committee will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Suite 102 at 1020 10th St., Modesto. Its meetings are open to the public.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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