So let me get this straight: The state government is telling us we can’t hose down the driveway and should feel guilty about watering the lawn. But it’s OK for somebody to pump all the ground water he wants?
The policy-makers are padlocking flush toilets and shutting off showers at some state parks. But they’re too lazy or cowardly to regulate people’s wells?
In an average year, 40 percent of the water Californians use comes from the ground. In this drought, it’s close to 65 percent, according to the California Water Foundation.
Yet, California is the only western state that refuses to manage groundwater. As a result, water tables have fallen dramatically in many areas — especially in the crop-intensive San Joaquin Valley — and the land even is sinking.
“California property owners have the right to all the water under them,” says state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, who heads the Senate water committee.
“That began in the Wild West. And we haven’t adapted to modern times. … It’s competition between property owners over who gets the most water. I call it a race to the bottom.”
Many farmers can’t drill fast enough, paying anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 to bore deeper into the aquifer.
“The best job in the world now is to be a water driller,” Pavley says. “People are lining up for you. …
“Meanwhile, average people can’t compete financially with these large landowners. They don’t have access anymore to well water and can’t afford to drill deeper.”
As more water is pumped and not replenished, the aquifer falls further. “You shouldn’t be able to drill as deeply as you want when it’s detrimental to others,” the senator contends.
Pavley, once again, is trying to manage California’s diminishing groundwater, pressing legislators to pass a regulation bill before they adjourn for the year about Labor Day.
She’s allied with Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, who says, concerning the drought: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Pavley and Dickinson are sponsoring separate bills that would essentially do the same thing: Command local governments to manage groundwater so it becomes sustainable. And if they don’t, the state could step in and regulate.
The senator tried something like this five years ago when legislators adopted a broad water package that contained an $11-billion bond — since shelved because voters undoubtedly would have been repulsed by the pork stench — and a plumbing makeover for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. But the groundwater regulation was blocked by interests objecting to bureaucrats messing with folks’ wells.
This time, the Pavley-Dickinson effort is strongly backed by a broad coalition that includes major groundwater users.
Tim Quinn, executive director of the 430-member Association of California Water Agencies, says “there is a nervous consensus in the water management world that we have to bite this bullet and deal with the groundwater crisis. There’s a lot of angst, but no one is saying don’t do it. Our position has astounded a lot of people.”
Quinn says his group, which includes many irrigation districts, wants groundwater to be managed locally. “But no longer do we favor local control no matter what,” he says. “It has to be an exercise in local responsibility. And if not, local areas may be vulnerable to state regulation.”