In agricultural areas in the Central Valley of California, the frenzy of well drilling has accelerated over the past year as producers resort to pumping more groundwater during droughts, even when low water levels leave hundreds of nearby homes with dry wells.
Counties continued to freely issue drilling permits after California passed a landmark law, the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which is designed to address over-pumping over the next two decades for conservation groundwater.
Some state lawmakers now support Fr. bill which, they said, would strengthen oversight and limit the frenzy of drilling wells by requiring the revision of permits for new wells by the same local agencies responsible for groundwater management.
“It just makes sense that the agency in charge of pumping groundwater for a sustainable harvest should be able to weigh new wells that are part of the same aquifer they are trying to control,” said a member of the Democratic Assembly. Steve Bennett of Venturi, who introduced the bill.
According to Bennett, under the system, counties sign permits, and farmland owners “rush to get their wells” before restrictions on pumping take effect.
“I think the implementation of the immersion of new wells will continue if not accelerated, if we do not have it,” said Bennett.
The bill, AB 2201, was approved on April 26 by the Assembly’s Committee on Waters, Parks and Wildlife and is then on the Appropriations Committee.
The bill requires so-called groundwater sustainability agencies, which were established under the 2014 law, to weigh applications for well permits.
Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a drought order in March that also bans local governments from issuing a well drilling permit if it is “inappropriate” to the area’s groundwater management plan. Newsham’s order slowed the drilling of new wells in the San Joaquin Valley.
But the order provides only temporary measures during droughts, and proponents of the bill argue that such a permanent change is necessary to protect vulnerable communities before the new wells dry out.
The law prohibits local authorities from granting permission for a well unless it receives written confirmation from the Groundwater Sustainability Agency that the proposed well “complies” with the district management plan. Underground basins, which the state considers a high or medium priority, will fall under this requirement.
The bill requires agencies to post a notice of each application for a well permit online and allow the public to comment for 30 days. It would be an exception for domestic wells or wells that provide drinking water.
Bennett said a fundamental problem is that new wells have been approved without analyzing how pumping will affect other wells in nearby communities.
“Wealthy communities need elected officials to stand up for them,” Bennett said.
Among those who spoke during the committee meeting was Ruth Martinez of the Ducor community in Tulare County.
Martinez said her community of about 600 people, mostly Latin American farmers, had long suffered from nitrate pollution in drinking water, which meant they could not safely use tap water. In 2016, the community received a $ 1.8 million state grant and drilled a deeper well nearly 2,000 feet deep that yielded clean water.
But last year a new agricultural well was drilled across the road from them, which, she said, threatens the community’s water supply.
“The county has approved this new well without thinking about the impact on our community,” Martinez told lawmakers.
If the legislation went into effect, Martinez said, the local groundwater agency would notify the public and could reject the permit application.
Martinez, a member of the Ducor District Public Services Council, said residents are concerned about the pumping.
“I get a lot of calls and concerns from families about the pressure drop and the lack of water from our taps,” Martinez said. “Our new water is not working because the county has not protected us.”
Among the supporters of the bill is the Joint Water Center group.
“It is imperative that we connect and close the gap between land use permit decisions and sustainable groundwater management,” said Kyle Jones, the group’s director of policy.
For successful groundwater management, he said, the state must stop the spread of new agricultural wells near drinking water wells.
This legislation is opposed by groups representing the agricultural sector.
Brenda Bass of the California Chamber of Commerce said the bill “create a new permit regime for groundwater wells that will negatively impact the agricultural business” and food production.
According to government figures, much of California’s water, about 80% of water drainage and pumping, goes to agriculture in a typical year. The agricultural lands of the Central Valley produce almonds, pistachios, fruits and vegetables, as well as provide large dairy enterprises.
Danny Merkeley, director of water resources at the California Agricultural Bureau, said he believes the bill runs counter to the approach set out in the 2014 Groundwater Act and is “premature.”
The new requirements under the Newsom order need to be given some time for them to work out, “so we can identify problems and refine them,” Merklee said before considering the permanent legislation.
Water, long relied upon by farms delivered by canals from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, has been cut during the drought. Manufacturers have traditionally resorted to greater groundwater pumping in dry times, and the aquifer level in the Central Valley has been declining for decades.
З climate change as the temperature rises and the drought intensifies, the pressure on the limited groundwater reserves continues to increase.
The 2014 law is expected to eventually lead to pumping restrictions that will force producers to leave some farmland dry and unsown.
Measurements from NASA satellites have documented the depletion of vast amounts of water over the past two decades. So much water has been extracted from the aquifers of the San Joaquin Valley that the land is sinking as the clay soil collapses, a problem that has led to damage to canals and cracks in roads.
In the Tulara Basin the earth sinks at a rate of about a foot a year.
According to national data, more than 3,900 dry household wells have been registered since 2013, and the number of dry wells has increased sharply over the past year. The state has received reports of 975 domestic wells that have dried up in 2021, many in agricultural areas of the Central Valley.
An additional 162 dry wells have been recorded this year.
The State Department of Water recently reviewed plans submitted by local groundwater agencies and told agencies in agricultural areas of the San Joaquin Valley that their plans are “incomplete” and will require changes to address the widespread risk of drying out more wells and other problems.
“We have a real problem in California water“We have a gap between those who manage the basin to ensure sustainable production and those who simultaneously approve the immersion of new wells.”
Bennett said he had been thinking about the need for a solution for some time, and decided to introduce the bill after reading the Los Angeles Times article, which looks at the frenzy of drilling wells in the San Joaquin Valley. An analysis by The Times found that more than 6,200 agricultural wells have been drilled in the valley since the groundwater law was passed in 2014.
“I think it overturned the weight to say,‘ We’re going to do it this year, ’” Bennett said.
He introduced the bill in January, and it has since been amended.
As the bill faces opposition from agricultural groups, Bennett said he expects a “huge battle” to try to pass it.
Fran Paulei, a former state senator who helped draft the 2014 law, said the bill is a necessary update.
“Can you afford to add an unlimited number of new wells?” said Paulei, who is now director of environmental policy at the Schwarzenegger Institute for Public and Global Policy at the University of Southern California.
“Additional control is needed at the local level,” Paulei said. “We’re still racing to the bottom.”
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Citation: New bill aimed at curbing frantic well drilling on California farms (2022, May 10), received May 10, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-05-bill-aims-limit-frenzy- drilling.html
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