Agriculture + Environment

Localized groundwater regulation makes progress at Capitol

By From page A4 | July 06, 2014

Two bills to regulate groundwater are winding their way through the state Capitol this summer. Both would require local agencies to develop sustainable groundwater management plans and give them some teeth for enforcement.

Both SB 1168, written by Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, and AB 1739, by Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, would require management plans for high- and medium-priority basins. About 25 percent of California’s 515 basins — including Yolo County — fall into this category, based on population and agriculture dependence on groundwater.

Tim O’Halloran, the general manager for the Yolo County Flood Control District, said the bills’ authors intend to merge their efforts into a cohesive piece of legislation. While some water districts have endorsed one or both bills, O’Halloran said he is refraining from action pending further developments.

“They’re dealing with some very core issues — including defining ‘groundwater sustainability,’ ” he said.

California has some of the nation’s laxest groundwater policies, requiring the state Department of Water Resources to measure the extent to which water basins are being monitored — but there are no regulations determining how much water a well can draw from the ground.

In general, farmers and agricultural interest groups have been opposed to state groundwater regulations, arguing that no one-size-fits-all plan could address California’s economic and geographic diversity.

“Less is more,” said Jeff Merwin, president of the Yolo County Farm Bureau. “The less regulation the better, but if it’s locally controlled, that makes sense.”

Groundwater regulation has gone before the Yolo County Board of Supervisors twice, but has never been enacted. Supervisor Duane Chamberlain, an alfalfa farmer who represents the rural 5th District, has strongly opposed regulatory efforts that could supersede a farmer’s ability to finish a season.

“I certainly don’t want a county official to be able to come out and tell a farmer to shut off his well with a crop on the ground,” Chamberlain said.

He would rather see state and county efforts directed toward water storage, which likely will be included in whichever water bond makes it to California’s November ballot.

— Reach Elizabeth Case at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabeth_case

Elizabeth Case

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