San Jose Mercury News
SACRAMENTO (AP) -- A decades-old law barring the public from viewing records of water wells throughout California is drawing criticism amid the state's drought from those who believe the information locked away could help scientists and water policy specialists better protect the groundwater supply.
While other Western states make well logs widely available, the Sacramento Bee reported Sunday that the California law makes a small group state officials and researchers privy to data on each well's depth, diameter and the geological material bored through to hit water.
Records of the state's rivers and reservoirs are abundantly available, but that's not the case for wells in California, which provide one-third or more of the state's water supply and even more in dry years like this one.
"We are living in the Dark Ages with access to basic data," said Laurel Firestone of the Community Water Center in Visalia, which seeks greater public access. "We're basically blindfolding ourselves."
The law passed 63 years ago was designed to create an element of secrecy so drilling companies didn't tip their competitors to prime places to dig new wells.
Supporters of the law today fear that opening up the logs would invite lawsuits, possible restrictions on underground water and even sabotage if the information fell into the wrong hands.
Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau, said he supports the current restriction on the well logs.
"I don't see a real benefit for throwing a lot of that information out for public demand," Wenger said. "Those who are in authority and who have a need to know have access to it now."
In 1951 then-Gov. Earl Warren wrote that by restricting access to the information, drillers would provide the state with more complete and accurate information. It appears to have worked, with 800,000 well logs today on record.
John Hofer, who represents well drillers as executive director of the California Groundwater Association, said this is a new day and he favors opening up the records.
"I think the time has come to have better science and regulations," he said. "We want to be on the cutting edge of the new science."