The past two weeks I’ve written columns about both proposed state legislation and a draft County ordinance dealing with regulating groundwater wells. As I’ve disclosed previously, I serve on the committee that wrote the County well ordinance.
It should be noted that our proposed regulations apply only to those private property owners who either currently sell water to others, or plan to do so.
Here are some of the comments that folks have made about the proposals.
“This is an easier concept where there is a groundwater basin. Much of Mendocino County’s wells are into hard rock, where there is no basin. It appears the intent of state law was to focus on basins, not upland wells getting water from undefined rock fracturing. The county does not seem to know the difference, or care to know.”
— George Hollister, President, Mendocino County Farm Bureau
“Very timely article by Jim Shields. Right now the Board of Supervisors and some other interested parties are working on groundwater protection for Mendocino County. I/we have been pushing this for over a year from our Round Valley County Water District. If we don’t get this passed in our county before the state takes the lead we will be at the mercy of legislators in Sacramento. And we will have to deal with their bureaucracy every time we want to make a local adjustment to our ground water policy. If you don’t think this is important just look at the lawsuit the Coast Keepers Alliance brought against Sonoma County this time last year! It is all about over drafting groundwater in the Russian River area in Sonoma county and the next obvious step is a lawsuit in Mendo county if we don’t get our act together and pass groundwater protection and controls based on science and not sidestep the equal requirements for hydrologic study for all commercial wells preexisting and/or new. If we only require hydrologic study for new wells we will fall victim to what happened in Siskiyou County and lose the same kind of law case they did in 2018 that has set the precedent for the case in Sonoma County. I don’t think that the county isn’t aware that there are many different types of geologic areas and substrata, I think they are trying to figure how to address commercial water pumping and sales. The hydrologic test for any commercial well would be the same no matter where in the county it was located. You (Hollister) are right that the state through SGMA is focused on ground water basins and that is why I am concerned with the trend toward tying groundwater extraction to SGMA through litigation like National Audubon v. Superior Court 1983 and Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Board 2018. Both these cases have tied groundwater to surface waters setting new precedent in California water law. What that means is water law is changing in California. The county is starting to work to protect our groundwater, a resource that is as basic as our air to all our lives. No one should be allowed to overdraft our water, whether it is extracted from an aquifer of fractured rock or one of gravel in the valley floor! In either case any commercial water extraction permit in Mendocino county should be required to complete a hydrological study to the standard we set!”
—Robbie Wyre, Covelo
“Jim Shields wrote, ‘The lone dissenting vote, Ted Williams, said he wanted a cost analysis performed, and was skeptical that the cash-strapped county had the money to fund ongoing operation of the ordinance. He cited concerns about hiring a hydrologist and other staff needed to administer and enforce the regulatory framework. He estimated it would cost in excess of $300,000 to fund the ordinance.’ Wasn’t Teddy Bow Tie the front man for County Counsel’s unearned and undeserved raise, quick to champion Angelo’s exorbitant and unnecessary spending habits, the loudest applauder of Angelo’s apparently nonexistent ‘20 million dollar budget surplus’, etc., etc.? And now he balks at a measure that would regulate commercial use of our water supply (primarily by the pot industry) because of its potential cost? Leave it to Jim Shields to expose this petulant charlatan.”
— Stephen Rosenthal
“So the Supervisors form a committee comprised of people with different expertise in water issues telling them to propose rules to prevent abuse and harm to their neighbor’s wells and groundwater in general, and then tell the committee, ‘Thanks but no thanks we can’t do it because we don’t have the money.’? That’s outrageous. So what’s the option? Same old, same old. Leave everything like it is? Global warming caused historic droughts, marijuana growers depleting precious water supplies, and the supervisors response is, Sorry, no money, leave everything like it is. No wonder few people trust the government.”
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There’s a couple of things that are apparent.
As can be seen by these comments, people are paying pretty close attention to both state and local efforts to get a bit firmer grasp on the mostly unregulated area of groundwater well extraction. Historically and legally, the use of groundwater has been mostly unchecked and left to the discretion of the individual property owner. Due to many of the points raised by the foregoing commentators, long-standing practices respective to groundwater use, are now coming under increasing scrutiny, and rightly so.
Specifically, in regards to the draft ordinance brought forward by the Supervisors’ Ad Hoc Drought Committee that I and others worked on since last fall, I believe the funding will be found to initially implement it, most likely — as pointed by Supe Dan Gjerde —from the existing $100 billion surplus in the state’s budget.
I’ll keep you apprised of developments with this issue.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, email@example.com, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM or http://www.kpfn.org.)