County must put moratorium on big ag wells

08/12/2014 4:02 PM

08/12/2014 4:03 PM

It’s time to put a moratorium on the drilling of new ag wells in eastern Stanislaus County.

Three years of below-average rain and snowfall; severe cutbacks in federal and state water allocations; a rush by large farmers and outside speculators with far-away investors trying to take advantage of the almond gold rush have combined to put our communities in a crisis. A groundwater crisis.

My family moved to Oakdale in 1942. I am currently a director of the Oakdale Irrigation District, though I am not writing in that capacity.

Measurements of groundwater in OID wells over the past 15 years have shown a gradual degeneration of our groundwater table. This began long before our current drought, with the increase in new rural ranchettes and thousands of acres converted from rangeland to agriculture to grow almonds with water pumped from the aquifer.

Our groundwater table continues to drop, but now at an increasing and alarming rate. More and more homeowners are reporting domestic wells going dry. Driven by record high prices and an insatiable demand for almonds, we see more and more plantings outside of irrigation districts. Those districts provide surface water for the trees, while those outside the districts depend on groundwater. This demand for groundwater is unsustainable.

We are hoping next year will be wet. Even if it is, it will do little to recharge our aquifers. The large, out-of-district orchards will continue to pump groundwater.

How many additional thousands of acres will be planted and well permits granted to even further deplete our dwindling groundwater supply?

Modesto, Oakdale, Turlock and Merced irrigation districts have been put on notice that the State Water Control Board expects the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers to contain 40 percent of unimpaired flows – meaning the amount of water sent into the Delta will be doubled or tripled.

This means even less water will be available for our farmers, who will then become even more dependent on groundwater. Worse, without surface-water irrigation, there is little or no hope for groundwater recharge, exacerbating the problem.

We cannot allow thousands and thousands more acres of almonds to be planted outside the boundaries of our irrigation districts and billions more gallons of groundwater to be pumped to feed them, all just to satisfy the greed of large landowners and speculators who could care less about the well-being of 500,000 people living in this county and depending on groundwater for their lives.

Please put a moratorium on more large agriculture wells.

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