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Stanislaus County officials say they are diligently working on groundwater problem

A group of Oakdale-area residents told Stanislaus County leaders Tuesday that investors still are ripping up grazing land and planting almond orchards that deplete the groundwater.

Sharon Getchel said wildlife is being displaced in the eastern part of the county, neighbors are bothered by dust and increased pesticide use, and large trucks are creating hazards on the narrow county roads.

Another speaker said a Water Advisory Committee appointed in early 2014 has not come up with policies for protecting domestic wells against agricultural pumping.

Supervisors heard a report at Tuesday’s meeting that they hoped would show the county is earnestly working on the issue.

Walter Ward, the county’s water resources manager, said the effort is building a strong foundation for sustaining groundwater as a resource. Legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September requires local groundwater sustainability agencies to be formed by 2017.

Plans for managing the county’s groundwater basins are due in 2020 and 2022, depending on the priority for each basin, Ward said.

Stanislaus officials have marked off four groundwater subbasins for study, including one underlying the county’s northeast triangle, a Modesto subbasin north of the Tuolumne River, a Turlock subbasin south of the Tuolumne and a basin in the western part of the county.

The county has hired a technical firm to map the location of water wells and build a database of groundwater information. The database will be essential for creating the sustainable groundwater plans required by the state, Ward said.

The database will include the location of wells, construction of wells, pumping data and the effect on groundwater levels.

County government has been sharply criticized for issuing hundreds of well permits last year before adopting tougher requirements in November for reviewing permit applications.

“I think we need to do more,” said Supervisor Bill O’Brien, whose district includes the Oakdale area.

Board Chairman Terry Withrow said the county lacked authority to slap a moratorium on deep wells prior to the state legislation. It would have been overwhelmed with lawsuits, he said, but the county acted to restrict well permits soon after the governor signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Withrow said the work on the database and other progress has put Stanislaus ahead of other counties in complying with the state’s groundwater legislation.

Ken Carlson: (209) 578-2321

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