Our Views: Groundwater is a hot topic in Turlock

04/11/2014 8:00 PM

04/11/2014 8:59 PM

Our region’s ongoing conversation about groundwater continues Tuesday night at California State University, Stanislaus. The Turlock Chamber of Commerce and the university have assembled five panelists, each with unique qualifications, for a public forum. Similar conversations are occurring throughout the valley and state, some more official than others. All are addressing the depth of the problem during an extreme drought, when surface water is scarce and expensive.

California is the only western state that does not regulate or control groundwater extraction. We live under antiquated laws that treat water like minerals; if your land sits on top of it, you have the right to extract it. Unlike minerals, though, water doesn’t stay put. It pools in basins that can underlie any number of properties. Pump too much and the entire pool drops, causing your neighbor’s well to go dry.

But during a drought, farmers need to pump that water to keep alive permanent crops, let alone have a decent harvest. There is dispute over how much water can be pumped without depleting the resource. That’s why Stanislaus County has a committee, chaired by Wayne Zipser (one of the five CSUS panelists), trying to come up with workable regulations for the Board of Supervisors to consider.

Groundwater depletion is a statewide crisis with enormous economic and public health implications. If local governments can’t find a way to preserve the resource, the state will be forced to step in. Most people believe local governments are running out of time before that happens. Perhaps Dorene D’Adamo, a member of the State Water Resources Control Board and a panelist Tuesday night, can speak to the urgency. She’s as knowledgeable as anyone on this issue. The panel goes from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Mary Stuart Rogers building, Room 130.

Bubbles in the valley?

Speaking of water, it was no surprise to read that land with a reliable water source (i.e., not dependent on state or federal water projects) is worth more than land without. Duh. What might have been a little startling in a story printed earlier this week, was just how much more valuable that land has become. Nut acreage has increased by up to 50 percent in just one year and is now selling for $31,000 an acre. Before anyone decides it’s a good time to leverage that value, look up the definition of “bubble.” Anything that inflates that quickly will just as quickly deflate. Do the words “dot bomb” or “foreclosure” ring any bells?

You call this campaign donation reform?

We’re underwhelmed by the Turlock City Council’s compromise on campaign contribution rules. Councilman Steve Nascimento had proposed a “Tin Cup” ordinance that would have kept councilmembers from voting on proposals that would benefit major donors. Councilwoman Amy Bublak, who is running for county assessor, took offense, saying such rules made it appear that councilmembers are not trustworthy. The uproar from the right and the left over recent Supreme Court rulings concerning campaign-donation limits should be ample evidence that people are fed up with governing bodies that appear to be available to the highest bidder – whether they are or not.

High-speed rail is going ... where?

The Maddy Report takes on “High Speed Rail: The Little Engine That Could – or Couldn’t?” this week. State Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly joins the institute’s Mark Keppler and others. Listen in Sunday at 10 a.m. on KMJ (AM 580) or at www.calchannel.com.

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