[env-trinity] California's Looming Groundwater Catastrophe

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Wed Jul 15 17:00:39 PDT 2009


You can read Dr. Gleick's bio, but simply stated he is unquestionably the
leading non-financially involved, knowledgeable and objective student,
scientist and writer on California water issues.

 

Byron

 

 

 

 <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/gleick/index>
http://imgs.sfgate.com/graphics/blogs/luminaries/gleick.jpg

 <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/gleick/index> Dr. Peter Gleick

President, Pacific Institute

 <http://www.sfgate.com/rss/feeds/blogs/sfgate/gleick/index_rss2.xml>
http://imgs.sfgate.com/graphics/utils/rss_icon_citybrights2.gif| Read Bio
<http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/gleick/bios> 


City Brights: Peter <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/gleick/index>
Gleick : California's looming groundwater catastrophe


California is one of the only states in the United States with almost
completely unregulated groundwater use. Groundwater users are, with few
exceptions, not required to report how much water they pump...

California's looming groundwater catastrophe


California's looming groundwater catastrophe


California is one of the only states in the United States with almost
completely unregulated groundwater use. Groundwater users are, with few
exceptions, not required to report how much water they pump. Further,
groundwater levels are irregularly and incompletely monitored, leaving these
withdrawals unmeasured and policymakers in the dark. In part, this is a
legacy from the old days when groundwater and surface water were considered
separate. We have known for a long time, however, that they are connected,
and that the use of one affects the availability of the other. Pretending
that we only need to allocate and monitor surface water use and rights,
while unlimited groundwater use is permitted, is a recipe for disaster.

Some people like it this way. And these people do whatever they can to
prevent any move to get the state to regulate, or even measure, groundwater
use. If their groundwater use affects their neighbor's well or a nearby
stream, tough luck.

This isn't sustainable. Sooner or later, bad things happen when the use of
common resources, such as air or water, is left completely unmanaged. For
groundwater in California, bad things are already happening.

Water Number: 60 million acre-feet. This is the amount of groundwater that a
new <http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=2249>  study from the US
Geological Survey estimates has been lost in California's Central Valley
since 1961. Lost. Consumed and not replenished. In some places, groundwater
levels have dropped 400 feet or more. The vast majority of this overpumping
has been in the Tulare Basin, though the last few years of drought have led
to significant increases in overdraft in the San Joaquin Basin as well.

As a result of some overpumping, land subsides and compacts. Buildings and
roads subside and crack. Drainage patterns change. And ironically, the
California aqueduct systems run by the State and Federal governments may be
damaged, threatening the delivery of water to other urban and agricultural
users.

The truth is, there is not enough surface water to satisfy Central Valley
growers, and so they pump groundwater. In an average year in the Central
Valley, groundwater provides nearly half of irrigation water demand. In a
dry year, such as we've experienced for the past three years, some users
pump even more groundwater and groundwater may provide 60% or more of
irrigation demand. If this water is then replenished in wet years,
groundwater use over time is sustainable - groundwater acts like any other
reservoir (only without many of the adverse consequences of surface
reservoirs). If not fully replenished, however, groundwater levels
inevitably fall. 

The primary cost of using groundwater is to drill a well or to run a pump on
an existing well - the water itself is not priced. The costs for drilling
and running pumps, however, are beginning to rise. Costs for drilling new
wells, especially given the depths to which groundwater has fallen, can be
hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cost of electricity or diesel to run
groundwater pumps is rising as well. Eventually, the damage caused by
subsidence, or the conflict among users sharing the same aquifers, or the
cost of pumping will increase to the point where pumping must decrease or
even stop.

And when that happens, our food supply may go the way of the Delta smelt and
California's salmon, and we will end up with neither fish nor farms. Let's
stop pretending that pumping groundwater without constraint is a reasonable
use of our limited freshwater resources. In some areas of the state, local
entities have formed groundwater management authorities to manage this
important resource for the benefit of all users. This should be required
everywhere, but especially in areas of severe overdraft. Anything less will
mean growing confusion and chaos for California water and inevitably
diminishing returns for California agriculture.

 

Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

415 519 4810 cell

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
(secondary)

 <http://fotr.org/> http://www.fotr.org 

 

 

 

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