West county groundwater basin ‘critically overdrafted’

Western Calaveras County lies over one of 21 groundwater basins that suffer from excessive groundwater pumping, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

The well water source for some residents of western Calaveras County is “critically overdrafted,” according to the California Department of Water Resources.

The agency earlier this month issued a list of 21 groundwater basins around the state that it says are in serious trouble due to excess pumping. It is not the first time that state officials have listed the basins, but the news is gaining importance because local government agencies in critically overdrafted areas will have to come up with “groundwater sustainability plans” by 2020.

Since the plans are not yet in place, it is not clear what restrictions, if any, might be placed on wells in western Calaveras County that tap into the East San Joaquin Groundwater Basin.

Jason Boetzer, the head of the Calaveras County Environmental Management Agency, was out of the office on Monday and not immediately available for comment. However, his agency has been working for years to monitor groundwater conditions in the area.

Most Calaveras County well owners are unlikely to be impacted by groundwater sustainability rules because they draw from sources that are in cracks within rocky formations rather than the enormous groundwater basins that are beneath the Central Valley.

Wells in the Burson, Wallace and Valley Springs areas, however, may tap into the East San Joaquin Groundwater Basin that also serves large agricultural operations in neighboring San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

Ultimately, local officials will have to come up with groundwater sustainability plans for all of California’s groundwater basins. The deadline is two years earlier for basins that are deemed to be “critically overdrafted.

State officials say that the term “critically overdrafted” means those basins are already suffering reduced water levels even in non-drought years and that those reduced levels are causing problems that can range from the drying up of surface water sources to the intrusion of saltwater, as is happening on the western edge of the East San Joaquin Groundwater Basin near the San Joaquin River Delta.

The problem most likely to impact well owners is that water levels will sink so low that they will no longer be able to obtain water. Western Calaveras County already has a number of households with failed wells that have been forced to truck in water or connect to water utilities.

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