I appreciate Tom Sakash’s series about the surface water conveyance and treatment project and The Enterprise’s efforts to bring the opinions of the water experts forward. The community now knows much more than it did several months ago, although the capacity of the deep aquifer and the extent of its vulnerability to contamination by surface contaminants remain undetermined and subject to speculation.
Professor Graham Fogg suggested that the quality of water in the lower aquifer is potentially threatened by surface water contamination, and professor Jay Lund’s recent contribution implies that a significant fraction of that contamination is derived from wastewater associated with agricultural irrigation.
Nearly 2 million acres of cropland in the Sacramento Valley River Basin are under irrigation, consuming 2.5 million acre-feet of groundwater annually (website: Sacramento River Watershed Program). Ninety percent of the regional water supply goes toward irrigated agriculture, with the remaining 10 percent for urban use (water balance summary: California Water Plan Update, 2009).
Water quality is one major concern and the cost of supply and remediation the other; the latter has many concerned. Yet none of the inquiries have asked the question: Who should bear responsibility for prior impacts upon the quality and quantity of the water resources that require us to seek the alternative?
Rather than stick one sector of users with the entire bill, it seems fair to distribute the costs equitably among those who have benefited from their use and have contributed to their depletion and degradation. The same principle should be applied to any industry or sector that has benefited from the exploitation of a natural resource, whether fossil fuels extracted as coal from shallow mines, oil or natural gas drawn from underground wells, precious metals dug from the ground, or water taken from the subsurface. These resources belong to the commons and should be shared and managed for the benefit of all, not just to those who happen to get there first.
In the present case, both city residents and agriculture have benefited, and both should share the cost equitably. I encourage The Enterprise to extend the discussion in this direction.