February 21, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Ground Water Becoming Another Big California Fight:

The next front in California’s long-running water wars has already opened, and the reasons for it will sometimes be hard to see – but not always.

That next fight is over ground water, source of about 35 percent of the state’s fresh water in normal years and a much higher percentage in dry ones like 2014. This battle has the potential to become far more bitter than even the quarrels over how to distribute water from the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems.

For it’s all but certain that regulations of some kind will come soon to this only source of California fresh water that currently has virtually none.

“In the coming months, I will be working…on strategies for more effective groundwater management,” wrote Democratic state Sen. Fran Pavley of Calabasas in her latest constituent newsletter. When Pavley broaches a subject like this, no one involved can afford to ignore her. Only last year, she authored the state’s first regulations on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for oil and natural gas, and back in 2006, she was the force behind the AB32 restrictions on greenhouse gases, progenitor of the state’s ever-controversial cap-and-trade program.

For sure, the long-running drought here is producing conditions that almost demand regulation.

As things get drier, especially for San Joaquin Valley farms now drawing just a small fraction of their normal water entitlements from both the state Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, many of those farmers are pumping ground water furiously to keep their crops and businesses alive.

The longstanding presumption here has been that if there’s water under your land and you have a well, you can take as much as you want. That has sometimes ignored effects on other nearby property owners and the public.

One of those effects can be land subsidence, which in some Central Valley locales has topped 20 feet and can be spotted by passing motorists who see instruments and wellheads that once were on the surface perched on pipes reaching high above the current ground level.

Subsidence, in turn, can lead to problems moving surface water in canals, something water agencies cannot long tolerate. Over-pumping ground water can also spur intrusions of brackish salt water into fresh water aquifers.

The reality is that some of California’s most significant environmental laws have been the direct results of crises. The Field Act, passed just after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, changed the way schools all over the state are built. Building standards for other structures changed immensely after the 1971 San Fernando earthquake severely damaged the Olive View Medical Center. The drought of 1975-77 produced major water conservation changes, among them wide government distribution of low-flow toilets and shower heads, now standard in new homes and one reason today’s drought has not yet proved as disastrous as previous ones.

So far, drought has not produced great enthusiasm for Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed twin tunnels water project to bring Sacramento River water under the Delta to the state’s aqueduct. That’s partly because in return for more than $20 billion, the state would get no more water, even if the tunnels might assure more level supplies from year to year. So far, the main backers are water districts on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, whose member farmers are prone to major water allocation swings from year to year.

So that project won’t go anywhere for awhile. Which could mean that legislators who want at least to purvey the image of doing something about the drought will become more likely to adopt ground water regulations.

If they try this, expect another loud and large fight to break out, as farmers and water districts with wells of their own can be expected to fight anyone trying to tell them what to do with water they’ve long viewed as their own property.

in Opinion
Related Posts

S.M.a.r.t Column: Top Toady Town

February 18, 2024

February 18, 2024

Throughout history, from the ancient Romans and Assyrians to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, siege warfare has served as an...

S.M.a.r.t Column: The Sunset of Home Ownership

February 11, 2024

February 11, 2024

We are watching the sunset of our historical and cultural American dream of home ownership as we now are crossing...

SMa.r.t. Column: B(U)Y RIGHT

February 4, 2024

February 4, 2024

“By Right” state housing laws that give developers, in certain projects, the ability to ignore codes ‘by right.’ Well, that...

S.M.a.r.t  Column: Serf City

January 28, 2024

January 28, 2024

Homelessness is a problem in California, and nowhere is this more evident than in our fair city, where the unhoused...

S.M.a.r.t  Column: Bond Fatigue

January 22, 2024

January 22, 2024

Last week’s SMart article,  described two critical problems faced by our Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD): the declining...

S.M.a.r.t Column: Peace on Earth

December 27, 2023

December 27, 2023

We are all, by now, saturated with jingles, holiday cards, “ho ho ho’s,” countless commercial advertisements, and exhortations to feel...

S.M.a.r.t Column: On the Clock with Mayor Brock

December 17, 2023

December 17, 2023

I became Santa Monica’s Mayor on Tuesday, December 12, 2023, following a simple “switch of the chairs” transition with outgoing...

S.M.a.r.t Column: SANTA MONICA CITY COUNCIL 2024

December 10, 2023

December 10, 2023

Position:Seeking Santa Monica City Council Candidate(s) Introduction:Exciting opportunity for the right candidate(s) to work with like-minded Council members committed to...

S.M.a.r.t Column: ARB (NOT Ready to Build!)

December 3, 2023

December 3, 2023

Santa Monica City’s Architectural Review Board (ARB), established in 1974, acts “…to preserve existing areas of natural beauty, cultural importance...

SMa.r.t. Column: We are thankful for….

November 27, 2023

November 27, 2023

SMa.r.t. would like to wish you all a great Thanksgiving with friends and family and also to thank its readers...

S.M.a.r.t Column: Make the City New Again

November 19, 2023

November 19, 2023

When the COVID crisis struck, it cut the city’s income in half, demolishing many businesses and causing widespread layoffs and...

S.M.a.r.t Column: Four Futures

October 29, 2023

October 29, 2023

As well described by Paul Krugman, all cities have a core competency: things they do well or better regionally or...

SMa.r.t column: Beautiful Quartz Countertops Are Hurting Workers and Should Be Banned

October 9, 2023

October 9, 2023

Quartz countertops are super popular because they’re tough and can handle stains, scratches, and heat. But there’s a big problem:...

S.M.a.r.t Column: Architect’s Son Reflects On Civic Auditorium

October 2, 2023

October 2, 2023

Welton (David) Becket (1902-1969), pictured above, backed by a picture of our Civic Auditorium, was the designer of that famed...

S.M.a.r.t Column: Civic Center Debate

September 24, 2023

September 24, 2023

Civic Center Debate Last year, the City declared the Civic Center Auditorium surplus property after a decade of neglect and...