Sunday, February 1, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Drought has state debating its unregulated pumping

By
From page A10 | August 21, 2014 |

SACRAMENTO — Three years of drought have Californians debating an end to the state’s status as one of the last in the West with a pump-as-you-please policy for the vital underground sources that provide up to 65 percent of the state’s water.

Even with falling groundwater tables contributing to mandatory water restrictions for many cities, and forcing farmers and others to drill deeper and deeper wells, it’s been down to the wire as to whether California’s competing water interests are ready to translate that talk into action. California’s status as the country’s biggest farm economy, with the water-thirsty Central Valley the most productive U.S. agricultural area, makes the issue of interest nationwide. Farmers use 80 percent of the state’s water.

The many ways that Californians increasingly are feeling the bite of the drought made this month’s legislative session one of the strongest chances ever for the state to overcome the objections of farmers and others to adopt its first statewide groundwater management plan, backers say.

Two bills before lawmakers would require some local governments to start managing groundwater withdrawals, and authorize the state to step in if they fail. Legislators face an Aug. 31 deadline to get bills to Gov. Jerry Brown, however. A bill by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, passed the state Senate 24-12 on Tuesday, heading for a vote in the Assembly by the end of the month.

Some in the state’s influential agriculture bloc had been urging lawmakers to take up regulation at some other time.

California farmers “are scared to death” about ceding some oversight of critical irrigation water to state government, said Paul Wenger, an almond and walnut grower near the central California city of Modesto, and president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“Our members would probably just as soon say no. We know we can’t completely say no,” Wenger said. “People know there’s a problem we have to get our heads around.”

Other states treat groundwater more as a commonly shared resource, and have designated officials— in some states an engineer, in others a water court— in charge of divvying up groundwater allowances. In California, outside of areas where courts or other entities have stepped in, landowners have enjoyed unlimited use of their groundwater as a property right since Gold Rush days.

“California’s been something of the Wild West when it comes to government management compared to other states,” Pavley said.

Advocates of groundwater regulation say continuing to allow competing users to pump as much as they please could result in increasing groundwater shortages, more ground sinking, pollution of underground sources and other harm.

Even in an ordinary year, Californians pump out about 2 million acre-feet of groundwater— enough water for a year for 2 million families— more than rain and snow replenish, the state says.

This year is anything but ordinary, with more than 80 percent of the state classified in the highest category of drought. This year, drought will be responsible for $2.2 billion in losses in California, including a half-billion dollars in extra pumping costs as falling groundwater levels force drilling of deeper wells, a University of California, Davis report said last month. In parts of the San Joaquin Valley, falling groundwater tables are causing ground to sink at the fastest rates ever recorded, the U.S. Geological Survey says. And for some Californians who can’t afford a deeper well, the only running water now comes via a garden hose from a neighbor’s house.

For California’s cities and towns, “when you have a drought occurring, it either makes you stronger, or it’s going to kill you,” said Carol Russell, mayor of the 9,000-resident Sonoma County town of Cloverdale, which imposed mandatory water conservation last winter. Russell showed off yards where her neighbors had torn out their lawns to make sure businesses had adequate water. She tried to keep her voice cheerful as she described watching the apple trees she had planted in her backyard wither.

In California farm communities, “there are incredible tensions about the people that have the most money can drill the deepest,” Pavley said.

What Pavley and others describe as a race for the bottom has left even some ardent advocates of individual property rights uneasy about having enough water in the future for their almond groves, vineyards or row crops.

“They’re approaching the precipice. That’s the necessity that’s driving them,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, which includes some major water users.

Ebbing groundwater “will require us to change dramatically,” Quinn said. “We get that, we know that, we’re ready to deal with the modern world.”

Quinn and others had linked prospects of the groundwater regulation to whether legislators and the governor also agreed to boost investment in surface water. That happened last week, when lawmakers agreed to a statewide vote on a $7.5 billion bond that would create new reservoirs, among other things.

A mix of climatology and politics accounts for the rush to get groundwater regulation to a vote now — before annual winter rains that could take the pressure off, said Peter Gleick, head of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute on sustainable water.

“Drought has opened the door to better policy” on water, he said. “But if next year is wet, this door may close.”

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 2 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Rick WoodAugust 21, 2014 - 9:56 pm

    Agriculture does not use 80 percent of California's water. It uses 80 percent of the state's DEVELOPED water. The other 20 percent goes to urban uses. A huge amount remains in the river system and ends up in the ocean.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rick WoodAugust 21, 2014 - 10:03 pm

    "In California, outside of areas where courts or other entities have stepped in, landowners have enjoyed unlimited use of their groundwater as a property right since Gold Rush days." Read that carefully. Landowners may have enjoyed "unlimited use" of groundwater accessible under their land, but they don't always have a right to it. That's the point. In some groundwater basin where the overdraft problem has become chronic, there have been lawsuits resulting in adjudications of the basin to ensure no one is taking more than he has a right to. But that's a cumbersome and expensive process. The "little guys" can't afford it, so it favors the wealthy scofflaws. What these bills would do is make that process unnecessary. It's about time.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

 
Fire Department honors top firefighters

By Bill Hicks | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
 
4th annual Health and Wellness Fair a big success

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
 
 
Banish dry skin this winter

By Sarah Porkka | From Page: C4, 1 Comment

Chocolate: A long journey to deliciousness

By Karen Metz | From Page: C4

 
County board to consider DA reorganization plan

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

Eurozone offers lesson in debt

By Mark Sievers | From Page: B7

 
Rodriguez graduate completes basic training

By Nick DeCicco | From Page: B10

 
Fairfield police log: Jan. 30, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Jan. 30, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

From ocean to ocean, through the Panama Canal

By The Associated Press | From Page: C1

 
NASA launches Earth-observing satellite

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
‘Rolled Sleeves Bandit’ tied to 7 bank robberies in custody

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Bay Area agency accuses former official of embezzling $1.3M

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Los Angeles female-only mosque may be first in US

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

California health care contract fight resolved

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Man arrested after body parts found in suitcase

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Scientist considered father of birth control pill dies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Letter with suspicious powder received at Samaritan’s Purse

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Snails slither into spa scene in Thailand and around world

By The Associated Press | From Page: C6

 
 
Hatfields, McCoys make moonshine legally in southern W.Va.

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Airport authorities: Traveler beats homeless man with chair

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Kerry: ‘Enormous interest in new relationship with Cuba

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Drivers: Return to your dealers for a 2nd air bag recall fix

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Islamic State fighters admit defeat in Syrian town of Kobani

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

From car lots to city budgets, cheap oil means change

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Africa agrees to send 7,500 troops to fight Boko Haram

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
5 given preliminary charges over jihadi network in France

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Fire devastates major Russian library, threatens rare texts

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Swiss police: 4 dead after avalanche hits group of skiers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Fire at Bangladesh plastics factory kills at least 13

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Civilians flee east Ukraine town as fighting intensifies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

British actress Geraldine McEwan dies at age 82

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Greek leader tamps down rhetoric, vows to pay off debts

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
.

Opinion

 
Sound off for Feb. 1, 2015

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

 
Editorial Cartoon: Feb. 1, 2015

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Feb. 1, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Feb. 1, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Prayer, commonly misunderstood

By The Rev. Rick L. Stonestreet | From Page: C3, 7 Comments

 
Sundance doc pulls back curtain on Scientology

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3

 
Horoscopes: Feb. 1, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: C4

Volunteer or visit because February is National Salute to Veteran Patients

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: C4

 
.

Entertainment

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
Review: ‘First Bad Man’ is Miranda July’s debut novel

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
Lorrie Moore nominated for short story prize

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

New book to feature unpublished Hemingway conversations

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B11

.

Sports

Mustangs win the whole Encalada

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Super Bowl the final act of the NFL’s worst season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Lowest prices on last-minute Super Bowl tickets near $9,000

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Seau, Bettis, Brown, Haley, Shields voted into Hall of Fame

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Rodgers wins MVP, Watt unanimous top AP defensive player

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Lydia Ko takes No. 1 spot at 17, Na Yeon Choi wins opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Laird takes a 3-shot lead in Phoenix Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

.

Business

On the money: Low gas prices, incentives change math for electric cars

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Small talk: NFL players find second careers as entrepreneurs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

Recalls this week: space heaters, orbital sanders

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Sumptuous seaside hotel sells for record-shattering $360M

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Review: Open e-book format comes with headaches

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
.

Obituaries

Garry A. Britton

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Anthony Neal Hunley

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Frank Z. Perez

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Joe Lambert Robinson

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Flora Mae Brooks

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Otilia (Tela) Quinn

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

Lester Singer

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
WillIiam “Bill” Hunter

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics