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Guarding our groundwater
April 12, 2014, 05:00 AM By Chico Enterprise-Record

Chico Enterprise-Record

When it comes to the water that sits in north state aquifers, we trust our local counties to safeguard it and determine how to use it much more than we trust the state to manage it.

Even though water is abundant in the north state, we generally know how valuable the resource is. We manage it wisely for the most part.

Especially in a drought, other areas covet our water. Despite vague remarks of indifference by water managers south of the delta, the underground reservoir here is coveted as much as the water in the above-ground reservoirs. And just like the building of Shasta, Trinity and Oroville dams was done solely to capture that blue resource, we know in this state that no expense is too great and no justification too exaggerated for getting their hands on any water source. Ask the folks in the Owens Valley or Trinity County.

And in a drought, that’s when the pressures are ramped up to get that underground water, since there’s not as much of it sitting in those reservoirs.

We ran articles last week about the folly of San Joaquin Valley farmers replacing row crops, which can be fallowed during a drought, with orchards. Fruit and nut trees are huge investments, so farmers simply can’t quit watering for a year. The trees would die.

Instead, they drill deeper for groundwater when there is no surface water. That has caused the land to sink and the water table to fall in some places, permanently damaging the aquifer.

Many counties, even those to the south where water is a more scarce resource, are not managing their groundwater at all. It’s almost an anything-goes scenario. That has prompted state legislators to declare they must do something — and with our legislators, it’s always more of a threat than a declaration when they say they want to fix something. We aren’t likely to approve of the “fixes.”

Sen. Fran Pavley of Calabasas says she wants to make groundwater management a personal priority. Why would a state senator from Southern California be interested in statewide groundwater rules? Care to guess?

Statewide restrictions to solve problems that are occurring in places like the San Joaquin Valley and Paso Robles are a wonderful idea, but we still get nervous when we hear the state talking about how it needs to do a better job of “integrated groundwater management.” To us, that sounds like somebody saying we need to tap into areas where there’s a lot of groundwater and quit draining areas where the groundwater has been nearly sucked dry.

A better solution than “share and share alike,” we believe, is for local areas to decide their own groundwater management, within reason. The state seems to be saying, in its new “California Water Action Plan,” that if local groundwater basins or counties don’t effectively manage their aquifers, the state will slap restrictions on them.

That should be good incentive for our area to come up with its own plan. As Paul Gosselin, director of Butte County’s Department of Water and Resource Conservation, told the county Butte County Water Commission last week: “If the state came in and started making land-use decisions, it would be disastrous.”

The answer, Gosselin said, is for the county to come up with its own plan, with targets for how much groundwater can be pumped each year, then monitoring the totals. The county, he said, would be required to do compliance reports every five years to prove it is following the plan. It will be expensive, and may be just one more cost for farmers and water users, but it’s better than the alternative of putting the state in charge.

Rahm Emanuel, formerly Barack Obama’s chief of staff, once elucidated an unspoken maxim that many politicians follow: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that, it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

If that means the state will stop counties from pumping too much groundwater, that’s excellent. If that means the state will use the drought as an opportunity to suck more groundwater out of the north to get through the crisis, we’re concerned.



Tags: water, state, groundwater, county, counties, areas,

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