OUR VIEWS

Our View: Some ideas for regulations on groundwater

March 4, 2014 

Jim DeMartini called the Stanislaus County Groundwater Advisory Committee a waste of time, and he might be right. With his departure, there’s a better chance that won’t be the case.

If the committee is to succeed, it needs leaders who want to develop groundwater rules, regulations and permitting procedures that will create sustainability and equity for everyone who depends on groundwater – which is everyone in the county.

Supervisor Terry Withrow has replaced DeMartini and, with chairman Wayne Zipser, we think the committee can do good work. There are broad issues to consider (quickly) and details to be mastered. But here are some topics we hope the committee addresses:

•  Essential information: The committee needs data. Unfortunately, groundwater information isn’t plentiful. How to get it? Follow retired hydrologist Vance Kennedy’s advice and require anyone applying for anything beyond a household well to provide a California Environmental Quality Act report detailing impacts on the basin and their neighbors. That will provide the details.

•  Control demand: If someone arrived with a plan to build a new Fresno near Valley Home, we would demand to know to exactly where the water would come from. The same should be true of farmers. Last Sunday, reporter J.N. Sbranti described how water from new wells in eastern Stanislaus County could supply a city the size of Sacramento. Five thousand acres of almonds uses enough water to supply Turlock for a year. If such enormous demand is draining our aquifers, we need to know before it happens.

•  Mitigate: Once you know the demand and the aquifer characteristics, you can determine how much water can be sustainably extracted. If smaller users are threatened by larger users, then the larger users must mitigate the impact. And while they’re at it, the committee could recommend waiving permit fees for any homeowner who must drill deeper because larger pumps have lowered the water table.

•  Meters: This will raise hackles, but think about it. Every house in the state has been ordered to meter water use. It makes utterly no sense to measure how much water the tiniest users (homeowners) take while letting the gargantuan users take any amount they want. It all comes from the same place, so what’s the difference?

•  Real-time data: Those new meters should be smart, transmitting real-time pumping data back to the county. That way, the groundwater resource manager can actually manage the resource. How to pay for such technology? Build the cost into the permits. And while we’re at it, older pumps should be retrofitted with transmitters.

Hopefully, the committee will have similar or better ideas. The only idea that can’t fly is to “wait and see.”

Many people are already calling (loudly) for statewide groundwater regulations. If we can’t come up with our own, then we should let the state do it. Only strong leaders can keep that from happening.

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