Friday, January 30, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

What we don’t know about the drought? Plenty

TomEliasW

By
From page A6 | August 13, 2014 |

We know a fair amount about the drought that has now afflicted California for about three years: It has been the driest period since record-keeping began in the 19th century.

If their wells are deep enough, farmers can still pretty much pump all the ground water they like, while homeowners can be fined up to $500 for watering down a walkway. Water use actually rose after Gov. Jerry Brown asked for a voluntary 20 percent cutback.

A large seawater desalinating plant will open by 2016 in the north San Diego County city of Carlsbad. Ground has subsided in many parts of the Central Valley as aquifers have been pumped faster than they could be replenished. Weather forecasters predict next winter may be as dry as the last one.

But there remains much that we don’t know, as detailed in the latest issue of Stanford Magazine article by writer Kate Galbraith. It turns out that what we don’t know may be more fundamental that what we do know.

For example, because more than 255,000 homes and businesses in 42 communities lack water meters and because of the almost unlimited, unmetered ground water pumping, no one knows just how much water California uses or needs.

In Sacramento, scene of the meeting where state regulators this summer decreed there be less watering of lawns all over California, about half the homes and businesses lack water meters. They can use all they like without any financial or legal consequence unless they have the temerity to hose down a walkway or sidewalk.

For another example, we have no idea how much water lies in most California underground lakes, also known as aquifers. We do know that golf courses in the Coachella Valley portion of Riverside County — including Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and the aptly named Indian Wells — remain quite green even as the state Capitol lawn and many others go brown.

Drought or not, a vast underground lake beneath most of that area has so far kept water shortages there at bay. Plus, much of the water sprayed onto that valley’s myriad greens and fairways eventually filters back down to the aquifer.

But it’s the extent of aquifers in the Central Valley that’s most important to know. As farmers expend tens of thousands of dollars deepening wells to reach the new, lower levels of the aquifers, no one has the foggiest notion how long this can go on.

Meanwhile, state law effectively permits farmers, water districts and anyone else with a well to pump all the water they want, the presumption being that water beneath a property belongs to the property owner. Never mind that ground water has no idea who owns it or where property lines may lie. Which can mean that if one well owner pumps excessively, others in the area get left high and dry.

Meters, Stanford Magazine says, could fix some of that.

“If everyone had a meter on their well and you knew how much everyone was using and you knew what the aquifer levels are, you could sort of calculate everybody’s contribution to aquifer depletion,” Leon Szeptycki, executive director of Stanford University’s Water in the West program told the magazine. “But if you don’t know any of those things, they just become things to fight about.”

So groundwater regulation bills now wending their way through the Legislature could be vital to planning the state’s water future. So could expanded aerial surveys of the Central Valley’s land formations and levels, which can indicate how much of a region’s groundwater has been lost over time.

Every other Western state now regulates groundwater use. But California operates blindly, and could pay a heavy price if it doesn’t begin sizing up its real situation, since groundwater is the usual backup when surface water supplies from aqueducts and reservoirs run low.

Yes, conservation is important, but even more vital is information. Right now, California simply doesn’t have enough upon which to base vital decisions that become more urgent with every passing month of drought.

— Reach syndicated columnist Tom Elias at [email protected]

Comments

comments

.

News

Suspected Ebola patient being treated at UCD Med Center

By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A1

 
Town hall focuses on Coordinated Care Initiative

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1

Schools give parents tools to help kids thrive

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Need a new best friend?

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2 | Gallery

 
Stanford University to get $50 million to produce vaccines

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Two more cases of measles in Northern California in children

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Dartmouth bans hard liquor

By New York Times News Service | From Page: A2

 
Vote for your favorites in Readers’ Choice poll

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

No bare bottoms, thanks to CommuniCare’s Diaper Drive

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Storyteller relies on nature as his subject on Saturday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Still time to purchase tickets for DHS Cabaret

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
All voices welcome at sing-along Wednesday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Great Chefs Program will feature Mulvaney

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

 
Walkers head out three times weekly

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3Comments are off for this post

Free tax preparation service begins Monday

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

 
February science fun set at Explorit

By Lisa Justice | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Take a photo tour of Cuba at Flyway Nights talk

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6 | Gallery

See wigeons, curlews and meadowlarks at city wetlands

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8 | Gallery

 
.

Forum

Time for bed … with Grandma

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Weigh quality of life, density

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

Olive expert joins St. James event

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
We’re grateful for bingo proceeds

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

 
A ‘new deal’ for the WPA building

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

 
Protect root zone to save trees

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

.

Sports

UCD men set new school D-I era win record

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
UCD has another tough football schedule in 2015

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Gould’s influence felt mightily in recent Super Bowls

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

 
Mustangs hold off UCD women

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Sharks double up Ducks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Sports briefs: Watney, Woods start slow at TPC Scottsdale

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

Recall that first Aggie TV game, national title?

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
.

Features

.

Arts

‘Song of the Sea’ is an enchanting fable

By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11 | Gallery

 
‘Artist’s Connection’ launches on DCTV

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

 
Gross’ paintings highlight a slice of Northern California

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12 | Gallery

February show at YoloArts’ Gallery 625 is ‘Food for Thought’

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12 | Gallery

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Comics: Friday, January 30, 2015

By Creator | From Page: A9