County officials say impact on county minimal
Bills now on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown would end the era of unregulated pumping of well water in California.
But the new laws are unlikely to burden the owners of private residential wells in Calaveras County, said Brian Moss, director of the county’s Environmental Management Agency.
“There has always been the concern about regulation of individual domestic wells,” Moss said. “I don’t think that is what these bills are aiming at.
“The issues are with the large-capacity users. And I think they (lawmakers) are trying to get a handle on that.”
Under a package of three bills that passed the Legislature at the end of August, wells are considered “groundwater extraction facilities” and, at least in some cases, owners of such facilities will have to register them.
The bills are a response both to the current drought and to the decades-old problem of over pumping and sinking water tables.
The laws require local “groundwater sustainability” agencies to come up with plans to end the draw down and ensure that groundwater will be available for generations to come.
Unless some other entity like a water district offers to be the groundwater sustainability agency, that task falls to the county government. And Calaveras officials said in emails this week that they’ve been studying the problem for years.
Language in one of the bills, Asssembly Bill 1739, requires local governments to address groundwater sustainability before adopting a General Plan. Calaveras officials could not immediately say whether this requirement might mean further delay in a years-overdue update of the county’s General Plan.
Planning Department Di-rector Peter Maurer said in an email that he does not believe the law will significantly impact the General Plan and that creating a groundwater sustainability plan will be a separate task.
If any part of Calaveras County feels the effect of the new law, it would most likely be the western edge of the county that shares the eastern San Joaquin aquifer sub-basin with neighboring San Joaquin County.
For more than 30 years, state officials have deemed the basin to be in “critical” overdraft – a condition that forces farmers to regularly deepen their wells and has allowed saltwater from the San Joaquin River Delta to intrude inland into the aquifer.
Senate Bill 1168 requires basins in critical overdraft to be managed by a groundwater sustainability plan by 2020. Other basins that are in less severe condition would have until 2022 to come under management plans.
Among other things, SB 1168 allows local agencies enforcing groundwater sustainability plans to put meters on wells.
The law appears to be focused on large users, whether municipal water systems or agricultural operations. Most opposition to the bill has been from farming interests.
State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, was among those opposing the bill. Berryhill said the bill does not take into account the needs of agriculture or mountain communities, and was a “one-size-fits-all” approach designed primarily to benefit big cities.
Supporters, in contrast, said the law is necessary to protect a crucial resource that benefits the entire state. Among them was Lester Snow, a former director of the Department of Water Resources who is now executive director of the private California Water Foundation.
“No longer will California carry the dubious distinction of being the only state in the West that doesn’t manage this invaluable resource,” Snow said.