Our View: Stanislaus County officials finally responding to water crisis

07/30/2014 6:10 PM

07/30/2014 6:12 PM

This week, Stanislaus County’s leaders and officials have shown more initiative, more compassion and more willingness to help residents than we’ve seen since the start of our drought and ensuing groundwater crisis.

We’re tempted to say it’s “about time.” Instead we say, “Welcome to the party; did you know it was BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottled water)?”

Last spring, county officials insisted that most of the dry wells were due to old age, poor maintenance or mechanical failure. But as more and newer wells have gone dry, it has finally become clear the water table is falling and something must be done.

Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors began doing it. Supervisor Bill O’Brien asked the county Office of Emergency Services to find ways to provide water for those who need it. It makes sense: Not having water for drinking, washing or flushing is an emergency. O’Brien’s was both correct and creative in his suggestion – which we hope County CEO Stan Risen turns into action.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the county’s Water Advisory Committee, even more good ideas surfaced. Water resources manager Walt Ward said he would: collect information from those with dry wells; meet with well drillers to prioritize new residential wells over ag wells; request a waiver from the state’s clean-air regulators so that out-of-state drilling companies can bring in diesel rigs. Supervisor Terry Withrow, an accountant who sits on the committee, talked about finding ways to help those who can’t afford new wells pay for them through loans or other assistance.

Making sure all these ideas gain traction is Risen’s job. At Tuesday’s board meeting, he said he would find out how other counties have formed emergency plans and begin crafting one for Stanislaus County shortly. That Ward was already in motion on Wednesday, the next day, is a very positive sign.

But not everyone has yet arrived at this party.

Area water districts must begin playing a role. They are not privately owned companies or clubs operating for the good of a relatively few farmers; they are public entities whose purpose is to serve those who live in their districts. Modesto, Turlock and Oakdale irrigation districts in particular have more water resources than the county can dream of; they are best positioned to help solve many of these problems.

Larry Byrd, MID’s representative on the WAC, likened this emergency to a fire that must be put out. He gets it; so pass him a bucket.

If huge irrigation district wells are causing the water table to fall, then the districts should either turn them off or connect them to nearby residences in need. Expensive? Perhaps, but necessary.

No one objects to sustainably sharing groundwater with farmers whose crops are in jeopardy. Those orchards, fields and pastures represent the economic backbone of our economy. But when those farmers – and districts – cause a residential well to go dry, they must be willing to help their neighbors. Consider this an RSVP invitation to the BYOB party.

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