Wednesday, September 10, 2014




            Never mind the hosannas that followed immediately after state legislators passed a last minute package of bills purported to impose California’s first-ever statewide regulations on ground water use.

          The bottom line is that those laws will change nothing for decades, while today’s reality cries out for fast action.

          Ground water accounts for about 35 percent of the state’s fresh water in normal years and a much higher percentage in dry ones like the last three. This year, as cities and farmers invest millions of dollars in drilling wells ever deeper, usage is likely higher than ever, because so little water is coming from the state’s big surface water projects and reservoirs. Because ground water use is generally not metered, no one knows exactly how much is being taken, but one report from the California Water Foundation indicated as much as 65 percent of the state’s water might come from wells this year.

          Meanwhile, the water table drops lower and lower, forcing wells to go ever farther underground or risk going dry. In some areas, this has already led to significant land subsidence, topping 20 feet in some parts of the Central Valley where passing motorists can see instruments and wellheads that once were on the surface perched on pipes now high above ground level.

          The problem with the new ground water laws is that it will be many years before they can affect any of that. The basics of what they call for are somewhat complicated, leaving plenty of room for local politicking, bickering and delay.

          The rules do sound just fine – until you look at the time limits. They will force local water agencies covering more than 100 aquifers to design regulations preventing further overdrafts, an overdraft occurring when more water is pumped from underground than percolates down to replace it. The state would review all such plans and could take over regulation when locals don’t enforce their own rules.

          This all sounds fine, and might improve matters about 25 years from now, it there’s any ground water left. But it will have absolutely no effect during the current drought or anytime soon after it ends. For local water authorities will have two years to decide who controls ground water in each area. They’ll get five to seven more years to design plans creating a balance between pumping and replenishment. Then they will have 20 years to put those plans into action.

          The trouble is that no one knows how much ground water will be left 25 or so years from now if the current drought goes on.

          Even so, legislators from farm areas stood unified against the new, extremely weak and untimely system. They said they wanted the same kind of unanimity achieved when the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown combined to place a $7.5 billion water bond on the November ballot – another measure that won’t have much impact on the current scene.

          This is all quite ludicrous and worthy of satire, since it will accomplish nothing during the lifetimes of at least one-third of today’s Californians.

    For when the new rules – whatever they turn out to be – take effect, there might be no more ground water to fight about. Most ludicrous have been the consistent claims of many farmers and their advocates that any rules at all on ground water constitute a violation of private property rights. Their theory: Any water under anyone’s property belongs to that property owner.

          This belief essentially contends that water knows where property lines lie. In fact, when any property owner pumps excessively, he or she frequently causes the water level in most neighbors' wells to drop, too.

          The answer to all this should have been a crash program with usage limits and installation of meters on every water well in California.

          Given the strength of the agriculture lobby, that wasn’t about to happen. Instead, legislators went home happy, the governor gets to grandstand a bit about allegedly doing something about the drought, and reality changes not one iota.

Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is

No comments:

Post a Comment