Joe Public comments on the Merced County groundwater ordinance

 This morning we received this commentary on the Merced County groundwater ordinance from Joe Public. It says what needs to be said about this latest water plan-to-make-a-plan.
We would only add that Steve Sloan was the chairman of the county Planning Commission during the entire building boom. Sloan is a man who never saw development he didn't like. He is one of two landowners whose groundwater mining triggered the production of this list of exemptions wrapped in an ordinance. -- blj
Yesterday I attended a Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting. As I listened to the proposed ordinance it brought back memories of standing before that governing body over thirteen years before and making the record on development and it’s future impacts on ground water depletion. As it turns out the hours spent trying to enlighten that governing body hell bent on development of any kind would have been better spent polishing my garbage cans.
Anyone in Merced County that for a second thinks that the proposed ordinance is going to do anything to change our current ground water depletion situation is delusional. Until we recognize that we are pumping ground water aquifers faster than they are recharging and act on that fact, all we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is a pretty simple solution, you learned it more than likely in the first month of bonehead bookkeeping when you were in high school. It’s called a budget.
Go back to the early 1960’s when the aquifer began it’s draw down. Take those ground water levels as the base. Average the yearly rainfall and snow packs from then till now and you have the amount of water available for all activities, environmental, urban development, agricultural development, and recharge of aquifers. Once you have these figures a budget can be established. What this all means is we have exceeded that budget with over development both urban and agriculture. So the only thing you can do is cut up the credit cards stop spending money on credit and pay down your debt. That means agriculture is going to have to cut back to those levels before the aquifer depletion started that means a pull out of permanent crops. Cities have to immediately stop expanding. Water sales by water purveyors have to recognize water recharge as part of it’s cost of doing business and each year designate water for the purpose of re-establishing those base groundwater levels.
OK all of you are already squealing like pigs under a gate but let us get real here. Either you can start taking actions to correct this situation by self regulating and cutting back on your operations and maybe only be able to have 40% of your current permanent crops or you can have nothing when your aquifer goes dry and you have to walk away. None of this is new. Agriculture has been through this before. Not for the same reasons but the correction was the same which were pull out programs designed to bring production down. There are many things that can be done to help accomplish the goal. Conservation easements extinguishing permanent plantings on marginal lands could be established. Exporters of ground pumped water should have 90% tax rates imposed on that volume of water exported to raise revenue to do recharge and set up conservation easements. Establish the concept of farming wetlands to do recharge and preserve wildlife. Agriculture could still be practiced on those easements such as pasture but permanent planting would be extinguished. Every private well should be metered and any ground water pumped should have a fee leveled on it to pay for mandatory recharge.
Merced Irrigation District likes to crow about how much recharge they do from seepage from their canal system. It is pure mythology. While there is seepage and recharge occurring from that system let us be real. The District has figured the cost of that water lost to seepage into the acre foot price of the farmers purchasing that water. Thus in reality it is not the District that did that recharge it is the purchasers of that water that accomplished that recharge. Since the District runs pumps that pump into the system in essence the purchasers pay twice for that ground pumped water with no appreciable gain for ground water recharge. Because of this fact and because of the fact that the only water is surface water the District must be mandated to budget for recharge to bring those ground water levels back to base line.
Gravel extraction should be prohibited in areas where possible recharge occurs such as river bottom lands that by removing that gravel extinguishes the lenses that allow rivers to lose water into the aquifer. Any gravel mining operation currently operating in those areas should have huge taxes placed upon those operations to pay for ground water recharge.
Every person and business in a City benefits from the recharge of ground water because it is their only source for water under the current system. Every resident of those City water systems should be taxed to pay for mandatory ground water recharge.
As you see there is a whole lot of pain for everybody in this budget process. But to not set a budget and follow it assure that every entity will inevitably walk away with nothing. I don’t hold much hope for any of the things I have purposed as a solution to our water situation. Under our current economic, educational and political system it is damned near impossible to recognize anything other than short term immediate profits. Until people realize that everything originates from natural resources and primary labor we are on a course for disaster no matter how many ordinances that are put in place. Until we stop the transfer of wealth to the wealthy predators that turns everything into a commodity and  prey on everything for their own personal gain it’s a real dismal future. The change is not going to happen from the leadership owned by the wealth. The change has to happen from each and everyone of us to recognize that if we don’t live within the scale of our environment we all die.
It’s time for austerity on the one percent to pay back what they have stolen from the environment, the workers that create all wealth and the resources of future generations.
Merced Sun-Star
Merced supervisors approve first steps of groundwater ordinance
Merced County’s proposed groundwater ordinance is one step closer to becoming law.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance, setting a second reading and possible adoption for March 17.
The ordinance would regulate groundwater transfers out of Merced County basins through a permitting process, allowing county officials to scrutinize each water transfer individually to determine potential impacts to the county’s groundwater resources.
Under the new ordinance, drilling a new well and exporting or mining groundwater would each require a permit. Replacement wells that don’t increase water pumping activities would be exempt from the permitting process.
The ordinance also identifies other exemptions: wells delivering 2 acre-feet or less per year, groundwater recharge efforts, exporting between two contiguous properties and public water agency conservation efforts, among others.
But the exemptions aren’t automatic, said County Executive Officer Jim Brown, and applicants must prove they meet the exemption criteria. “The (ordinance) language does require them to come to Environmental Health and verify that they meet the exemption,” Brown said during the board meeting.
Existing wells that are not exporting water off their properties do not need to apply for a permit, Brown confirmed. “The permit process is designed for new wells,” he said, “but existing wells that want to export (groundwater) need to come in and apply for a permit.”
The sudden push from county leaders to regulate groundwater came after two Merced County landowners tried selling water to Stanislaus County for profit. The landowners, Steve Sloan and Steve Smith, proposed selling up to 26,000 acre-feet of groundwater to the Del Puerto Water District and the Patterson Irrigation District for two years.
Sloan and Smith are estimated to receive $500 to $1,000 per acre-foot of groundwater, fetching millions of dollars over the life of the contract.
“They’re stealing my water and making money off it,” said Ken Spagnola. The 78-year-old almond farmer was one of more than a dozen to attend Tuesday’s meeting. “They had the power to stop these guys from transferring this water and they delayed it.”
The county has been working on the ordinance for nearly a year. Meanwhile, the Sloan and Smith proposal was approved by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in July and the two landowners began transporting groundwater outside the county.
According to data obtained by the Sun-Star, the landowners already have exported more than 6,800 acre-feet of groundwater outside the county: 2,248 acre-feet in October, 2,357 acre-feet in November and 2,241 acre-feet in December.
But a water expert hired by the county said the two property owners – and others that are exporting groundwater – must apply for a permit once the new ordinance is adopted.
“Once this ordinance becomes effective, they will need a permit to continue to export,” Antonio Rossmann told the Sun-Star. “The county can’t make them put the water back – what’s gone is gone. But the county could say that contract doesn’t count because it violates county law. It would stop them from exporting until they get a permit.”
Sloan could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and Smith declined comment when reached by the Sun-Star.
The Board of Supervisors had little discussion on the ordinance before approving the first steps Tuesday. District 3 Supervisor Daron McDaniel said it’s because the county has been working on the ordinance for a while.
“I’m very proud of the document we’ve created,” McDaniel said after the board meeting. “I’m all about property rights, but at the same time we’re here because of the taking of groundwater and selling it outside of the county.”
If adopted by the supervisors March 17, the new ordinance would go into effect 30 days later.