The Stanislaus County Water Advisory Committee on Wednesday recommended a way for the county government to start carrying out the state’s new groundwater law.
It calls for splitting the county into four “subbasins” where water extraction and recharge would be monitored with the goal of eventually making the resource sustainable. One is on the West Side, another is between the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers, the third is between the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, and the fourth is the triangle north of Oakdale.
The county would be one of several partners drafting a plan for each subbasin. They also would include local water suppliers and, in some cases, cross into other counties. The setup needs approval from the county Board of Supervisors and other governing bodies in these areas.
The recommendation was unanimous from the advisory committee, which has representatives from cities, irrigation districts, farming, well drilling and other interests.
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The law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown a year ago, requires sustainability plans for “critically overdrafted” subbasins by January 2020 and for others two years later. The aquifers must become sustainable within 20 years of plan adoption – via reduced pumping, recharge in non-drought years through storms or flood irrigation, or other means.
The committee Wednesday also heard from Juliet Christian-Smith, a climate scientist in the Oakland branch office of the Union of Concerned Scientists. She said the documents need specific thresholds for how much water can be pumped and must plan for the prospect of a much-reduced snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.
“A year like this year, for instance, will become more prevalent,” Christian-Smith said, referring the the especially dry conditions of 2015.
She also said the plans must recognize that groundwater can flow between basins, complicating local efforts to control it.
Walt Ward, water resources manager for the county, agreed.
“You can’t just put a fence around your basin and say, ‘I’m here alone,’ ” he said.
Farms and irrigation district representatives repeated their concern that the groundwater law would lead to the state taking the resource for use elsewhere. They also decried a separate state proposal to increase flows in the lower Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers, which could lead to more use of wells.
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Stanislaus County would be split into four subbasins under a proposal for carrying out the state’s new law mandating sustainable groundwater use:
▪ The cities of Modesto, Riverbank, Oakdale and Waterford, along with the Modesto Irrigation District, the Oakdale Irrigation District and other unincorportated areas between the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers.
▪ An area south of the Tuolumne River, including south Modesto, Ceres, Turlock, Hughson, the Turlock Irrigation District, the Denair Community Service District, the Eastside Water District and other parts of south Stanislaus and north Merced counties.
▪ The triangular part of Stanislaus County north of Oakdale, which would be part of a planning area also taking in parts of San Joaquin and Calaveras counties.
▪ The area west of the San Joaquin River, which would work on a plan with water providers in West Side portions of other counties.
SOUTH COUNTY WORKSHOP
An Oct. 29 meeting will provide information on how the new state law affects the groundwater subbasin centered in Turlock. It will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Ceres Community Center, 2701 Fourth St., Ceres. People planning to attend should RSVP by Oct. 23 to firstname.lastname@example.org.