Community Water Center

Community-driven water solutions through organizing, education, and advocacy
Pages tagged "Groundwater"

Join Us in Fresno for the GSP Toolkit Release October 26th!



The Union of Concerned Scientists, Self-Help Enterprises, and Community Water Center invite you to a panel discussion on local groundwater sustainability planning and the launch of the toolkit, Getting Involved in Groundwater; A Guide to California’s Groundwater Sustainability Plans. Speakers will include:


Dr. Joaquin Arambula, Assemblymember, California State Legislature
Eric Osterling, Manager of Water Resources, Kings River Conservation District
Virginia Gurrola, former City Council member and Mayor, city of Porterville
Cruz Rivera, Vice-President, Plainview Mutual Water Company
Dr. Juliet Christian-Smith, toolkit co-author and Senior Program Officer, Water Foundation

The toolkit breaks down some of the technical components of the GSP process—such as water budgets and models, working with consultants, and setting sustainability goals—so getting involved and working together is easier.


Join us on October 26th, 2017 10:30 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. (lunch provided)


 Broadmoor Room, University Square Hotel 

441 N Cedar Ave, Fresno, CA 93726 


More info in English and Spanish here. 


August 2017 CWLN Newsletter

Community Events & Announcements:

Armona Community Services Dedication of New $9,200,000 Well and Water Treatment Facility

The Board of Directors of the Armona Community Services cordially invites you to the dedication of their new $9,200,000 well and water treatment facility. The Dedication Ceremony will begin promptly at 11AM followed by facility tours and a light lunch. Armona is very proud of this state of the art facility and hope you are able to attend.  If you would like to address the audience or make a presentation, please call Krystal at (559) 584-4542 in order for us to properly introduce you.

Friday, September 8th, 2017

11:00 AM

10116- 14th Avenue, Hanford, CA (immediately South of the Old Kings Drive In Theater)


Community Water Center’s Water Justice Celebration

Join us for food, music, networking, and inspiring speakers! Check out our flyer and RSVP here: 

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

5:30-8:00 pm

210 Cafe -- 210 W. Center Ave. Visalia, CA 93291

Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund (SB 623) updates:

SB 623 (Monning) creates a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund with the State Water Board to fund drinking water solutions including capital infrastructure and operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. Currently there is no available funding to help systems struggling to finance O&M costs and without being able to show ability to do so, these systems are ineligible for capital infrastructure grants and loans from the State. The fund will be partially funded through contributions from agriculture for communities impacted by nitrate contamination, and partially funded through a water user fee (less than a dollar for single-family homes) for all other barriers to safe and affordable drinking water.

So far SB 623 has passed through the California Senate and one committee in the California Assembly, but it still has a number of hurdles ahead. In late August the bill will be voted on in Assembly Appropriations committee, then in early September it will go to the Assembly floor for a vote, then back to the Senate for another floor vote, and finally the bill will go to the Governor who has until mid-October to sign the bill into law.

SB 623 needs your support and there are a number of ways you can help. If your district has not done so already, you can submit resolutions in support of the bill. You can call your local legislator and let them know you support safe drinking water for all. You can also go to to sign a petition in support of SB 623. Together we can ensure California finally has a sustainable source of funding to support the human right to water.

If you have any questions please contact Jonathan Nelson at 916-706-3346 or


Low Income Rate Assistance Program (AB 401) update:

The State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) has concluded a series of public meetings to discuss options for a low-income rate assistance (LIRA) program to help Californians who have difficulties paying their water bills. Some local programs already exist, but AB 401 (passed in 2015) directs the Water Board to develop a plan for a statewide program that would cover many low-income households not currently served by a water LIRA. In the coming months, the Water Board will be working on a report to submit to the legislature in early 2018 that will include any recommendations for legislative action; if approved, a statewide water LIRA program could be in place in 2019. CWC will continue to be involved in the implementation process to ensure that the needs of California’s small rural communities are addressed in the proposal. You can help the Water Board design an effective, appropriate program to help low-income residents pay their water bills by submitting written comments on the published AB 401 scenarios until August 25th. This is an important step toward water affordability, and another step closer to achieving the human right to water for all Californians!


If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact Sonia Saini at

Don’t miss our next Network Briefing: September 28th, 4-5 PM

REMINDER: no Network Briefing call in August                                                                                                

Network “briefings” are monthly conference calls that provide members the opportunity to connect with each other, crowd-source questions, and receive information from the comfort of their own homes. As a reminder, we changed service providers which means, we have a new conference call phone number and passcode. To join, dial (929) 432-4463, when prompted, enter the access code 5254-59-7515 followed by the pound key (#). Let Adriana know if you need a pre-paid calling card in order to call long-distance.


                        1.   Member updates and questions

                        2.   Regional and state updates and questions

                        3.   Monthly discussion topic: Prop 1 / funding projects

Upcoming Events and Trainings:                                         

Find more events on our Community Water Leaders online calendar found at

Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) Updates:

On August 1st, 2017, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted a resolution to remove the the current MCL for the pollutant hexavalent chromium (chrome 6). This resolution was passed after a Superior Court of Sacramento County ruling invalidated the hexavalent chromium MCL on May 31, 2017.  In 2014 the MCL was set at 10 parts per billion (ppb). Hexavalent chromium is a naturally occurring heavy metal that may cause cancer after long-term exposure.

The hexavalent chromium MCL will be deleted from the California Code of Regulations in late September. The Board will begin the process for adopting a new MCL and will have a new MCL in approximately 18-24 months. While the State will not enforce hexavalent chromium compliance plans, the state MCL for total chromium (both trivalent and hexavalent chromium) of 50 ppb will remain in place. The Board estimates that the new MCL will be at the same or similar level as the now invalid one. Public water systems that planned/completed projects to treat hexavalent chromium may use that information once the new MCL is established.

Featured Resources of the Month:

  1. Citizen’s Guide to Working with the California Water Boards

The State Water Resources Control Board just released an updated guide that provides information on the various ways to engage with your local Water Board. The guide includes information ranging from: government structure and overview of water board programs, basin planning processes, water rights application processes, and a series of Water Board maps. The guide provides examples of available databases such as My Water Quality, a web portal for monitoring water safety, and GeoTracker, a data management system for impacted groundwater sites where users can layer data onto a map.  No matter what your current level of engagement with our Regional Water Board, this guide is a helpful reference for navigating processes and getting connected with water resources.


  1.  Department of Water Resources -- Groundwater Information Center

The Groundwater Information Center (GIC) is a web portal where visitors can access groundwater information ranging from: groundwater management plans, water well basics, well permitting processes, and information on bulletin 118. The portal also offers links to an interactive groundwater map application and a link to the Water Data Library (WDL) with data for over 35,000 California wells.

REMINDER: Reduced Annual Fees for DAC Public Water Systems                                                                                                                                     

On May 15, 2017 the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water issued a letter to Community Public Water Systems informing them of the possibility of reducing their Annual Fee if the system serves a Disadvantaged Community (DAC).

If you qualify (the Median Household Income in your community is less than $49,454), the reduced fee for your water system will be based on the number of connections that you serve. Systems serving fewer than 100 connections will pay $100. Systems serving 15,000 connections or less will pay $100 plus $2 for each service connection greater than 100.

If you believe your water system is eligible and wish to receive a reduced Annual Fee, submit a request in the form of a signed letter and include information demonstrating that your community meets the definition of a Disadvantaged Community, the DDW will respond.

You can find the letter they sent here. If you have any questions, contact your District Engineer. As Many as 700,000 Californians Are Drinking Contaminated Water


By: Sean Breslin

Published on March 24, 2017

Read the original story HERE

Nearly 300 water systems in California did not comply with safe drinking water standards, many of which are located in disadvantaged communities. "It becomes an economic stress issue," said Jenny Rempel, Director of Education and Engagement here at Community Water Center. "People are paying as much as 10 percent of their income on drinking water alone." Additionally, more than 3,000 household water wells remain dry from the drought and groundwater depletion. California lacks the proper funding for fully addressing these issues. 


SacBee: Opposing sides in California water wars forced together in groundwater agencies


By: Susan Sward

Published on March 23, 2017

Read the full story HERE

Groundwater regulations are being implemented throughout the state of California to meet long-term deadlines for protecting critical water infrastructure. However, a great deal of uncertainty exists within local agencies about whether these measures will protect disadvantaged communities or stay focused on agricultural interests. 

Then main issue at hand: “[Groundwater regulation is] certainly a huge opportunity for small, disadvantaged communities and small farmers to come together and demand a place at the table of these newly created local agencies where groundwater decisions will be made. But I also think there’s a possibility of institutionalizing the same inequitable system that has ruled unofficially for the last century where the more powerful players monopolize the groundwater.”




California Set to Regulate Carcinogen in Water for Decades

By: Tara Lohan
March 4, 2017


A water well in Del Rey, California, a small community in Fresno County. Del Rey is one of dozens of communities in the San Joaquin Valley that has found 1,2,3-trichloropropane, a likely human carcinogen, in its water. 

CARLOS ARIAS IS asked by many residents in the small town of Del Rey, California, if the water is safe to drink. He is the district manager of Del Rey’s community services district, which is tasked with providing drinking water and other services to its 2,000 residents.

You might think it would be an easy question to answer. But it’s not. “We’ve been told by the government that prolonged use of this water could cause cancer – that’s all I can tell them,” said Arias.

Del Rey, in Fresno County, is one of dozens of communities in the San Joaquin Valley with wells that contain 1,2,3-trichloropropane.

1,2,3-TCP, as it is commonly known, has been classified as a likely human carcinogen; in 1992 California added it to the list of chemicals known by the state to cause cancer. The first known detections in wells in the San Joaquin Valley came in 2000, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. And between 2001 and 2015 there have been detections at 471 wells ranging from 5 parts per trillion to 10,000 parts per trillion, with the most contaminated wells being found in Kern and Fresno counties.

Despite the prevalence and the risk, the state had not regulated the chemical.

But that will change in the next few months and when it does, it could mean two major companies having to pay out millions in remediation costs for contaminated wells.

Contaminating Groundwater

1,2,3-TCP is a man-made chlorinated hydrocarbon. It is used in industrial processes for cleaning and degreasing. A byproduct of the plastics industry, in the 1940s and 1950s it became part of a soup of chemicals formulated as a soil fumigant – a pesticide injected into the ground to kill tiny worms known as nematodes. Shell manufactured one of the fumigants, known as D-D, and Dow had a competing product called Telone.

They were “two of the most widely used soil fumigants in California” according to a 1983 report from the resources control board’s toxic substances control program.

“The really egregious part of this whole story is that this was a totally man-made problem and was totally avoidable,” said Andria Ventura, toxics program manager at Clean Water Action, the grassroots pressure group. Internal company documents discovered during litigation have shown that Dow and Shell knew early on that 1,2,3-TCP was not an active ingredient in the products and served no purpose in killing nematodes.

“It offered no extra benefit to farmers using [the] product,” said Ventura.

Despite that, the products were labeled for decades as 100 percent active, when in fact the primary active ingredient was known to be 1,3-dichloropropane. The rationale appears to have been purely economic, namely to “retain the definite sales advantage of a 100 percent active ingredient claim,” according to a 1949 letter by Shell regarding the federal registration of D-D.

“There are several reasons why we prefer not to list all the ingredients,” the letter states. “Some of the components that make up D-D … have little or no nematicidal effectiveness and we would not be able to defend our claim of 100 percent active ingredient if the names of any of these compounds appeared in the ingredient statement.”

It was not until 1974 that Dow began to reformulate its product (now sold as Telone-II) and eventually removed 1,2,3-TCP. Shell dropped its product altogether in the 1980s after stricter regulations for pesticides were put in place.

Because of ongoing litigation, Dow declined an interview but in a statement said “TCP was a trace constituent associated with certain historical, highly beneficial agricultural products and product formulations that controlled agricultural pests that otherwise would have caused millions of dollars in annual crop losses. Those products and product formulations have not been on the market for several decades and include products that Dow did not manufacture or sell.”

Communities at Risk


Del Rey is a small community of mostly farmworkers in Fresno County and is one of about 40 San Joaquin Valley communities taking legal action because of 1,2,3-trichloropropane, a likely human carcinogen, found in its groundwater. (Tara Lohan)

However, decades after products containing 1,2,3-TCP ceased to be used in the San Joaquin Valley, the consequences remain. It persists in the environment, leaches from the soil to the water and sinks to the bottom of an aquifer.

Many of the communities that have been affected, such as Del Rey, have few resources to fix the problem. “It’s such a small community, such a disadvantaged community,” said Arias. “I don’t think the people, especially poor people like we have in this community, should pay for something that was done by somebody else. All we want is the responsible parties to take responsibility in this matter and fix it.”

Arias said that there was no way Del Rey, whose residents mostly work in agricultural fields and packing houses, could clean up the drinking water by raising its water rates. “I know it’s costly – in the millions, which we don’t have,” he said.

Regulation on the Way

Del Rey is one of about 40 communities that so far have engaged in litigation to recoup remediation costs. Attorney Todd Robins has represented dozens of small valley communities suing the companies to help pay the cost of removing the contaminant from drinking-water wells. He said that while some of the lawsuits have already been settled out of court, most are moving slowly because California does not currently have a maximum contaminant level (MCL) stating how much of the chemical is safely allowed in public drinking-water systems.

The state has been moving toward establishing an MCL for some years.

In 2009 California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment set a public health goal of 0.7 parts per trillion (ppt), a level deemed to be safest for protecting public health. But public health goals are guidelines and not enforceable regulations. The next step is establishing the MCL, which is also in the works.

The SWRCB staff have issued a preliminary recommendation for an MCL of 5 parts per trillion, which is higher than the public health goal, but is the lowest detection level for most laboratories. A 45-day public comment period on the proposed draft MCL has just started and the water board will hold a public hearing on April 19.

After that feedback, the board is expected to adopt the MCL this summer, according to the SWRCB. Water systems would need to begin sampling for 1,2,3-TCP by Jan.1, 2018.

When the state issues the regulation, “that should have some significant reverberations on how the litigation comes out,” said Robins. “It will certainly result in more water systems joining the fray. A state rule would mean even the smallest water providers will have to test and most will not have the resources for remediation.”

The water board estimates that remediation will cost $34 million annually statewide for the affected systems if the MCL is indeed set at 5 parts per trillion. The numbers could climb if more communities are affected or if contamination worsens in wells, said Mark Bartson, supervising sanitary engineer with the control board’s division of drinking water.

In one of the few cases that have gone to trial already, Shell was ordered to pay $22 million to the city of Clovis in December. The city previously settled with Dow for $7.5 million.

A contamination problem, when faced by small, poor communities, “creates a dilemma between clean water and affordable water,” said Robins. “And the whole purpose of the litigation is to say people have a right to both; they shouldn’t have to choose.”


'They’re Not Going to Be Able to Ignore This Entire City Standing Together'

By: Beenish Ahmed

December 30, 2016

Original story:


A protestor behind a flag at the Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota. (Stephen Yang/Reuters)

From toxic levels of lead coursing through pipes in Flint, Michigan, to the ongoing fight for clean water raging in California’s Central Valley—where chemical waste sites have contaminated local water sources for decades—to the start of a massive protest over an oil pipeline that could poison groundwater in the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, water was a hot-button issue throughout 2016.

I spoke with activists on the front lines of the push for clean, affordable, potable water. Here, they reflect on 2016 and their hopes for the new year.

“This has been a people-powered movement since day one”

We’ve been working in crisis mode this entire time. We’ve been just taking water to people, getting filters to people, and trying to get the facts out. What we’re doing is building up a whole organization of residents. We’re pulling more people now that we can see the bigger picture and what the fight is, instead of [thinking], ‘Oh my God, we’re poisoned, we’re sick, we have to help each other.’

Now, instead of trying to get the word out that the water is poisoned, we’re like: ‘Ok, we know that the water is poisoned and they’re fighting us on the only fix, which is replacing the infrastructure. Now we’re gonna educate more people and organize in a true fashion.’ We’re going to go door-to-door and bring people into the fight. They can ignore a few pockets of us here and there, but they’re not going to be able to ignore this entire city standing together. I just want people in other cities to know that this has been a people-powered movement from day one and it’s going to continue to be that way.

It doesn’t matter what your background is. You can force change. That’s the one thing I want to teach my kids: When something is wrong, you don’t have to sit back and take it because it’s the government or some large corporation that you’re up against. It’s going to be a hard fight, but people have power and can make change. The biggest thing that I’ve noticed is that utilities, governments, whoever you’re working against, they want to see people divided. So there are people put into place to break up movements. I learned that through history, but also [from] talking to people who have been there before.

I had no science background. So, oh my God, did I have to learn water chemistry and science—but the more you learn, the harder it is to fight against you because an educated public is a scary and tough one. So that’s a huge thing for becoming an activist: Get educated in your cause so that way they can’t say that you’re just being emotional. Especially as a woman they’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re just being emotional. You’re just being a mom.’ So then I’ll just start nailing them with science, like, yeah I’m a mom—but guess what? I’m hitting you with facts and showing you that you’re wrong. (Melissa Mays, Water You Fighting For, Flint, Michigan)



Volunteers distribute bottled water to help combat the effects of the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan. (Jim Young/Reuters)

“When you get going, you just get caught up and try to do it better and better”

We started handing out water on a consistent basis in September 2014. We’ve been doing it a while and we evolved to the point where you’re doing something and then you can see how it can be a little bit better.

We started going door-to-door [with water donations]. Then we realized the need for recycling. With this many water bottles being used daily, we would trade one disaster for another with our landfills being filled with water bottles. So in February, we got a 22-foot dumpster [to fill with recyclable bottles]. When you get going, you just get caught up and try to do it better and better, but I’m really looking forward to being able to slow down once the state takes over and fulfills the court order [mandating that it take water] door-to-door.

We have hubs now around the city where people can go and get water, but you got your seniors, you got your wheelchair users, you got people without a vehicle—you got a lot of people who don’t have access to go to the water sites to pick up water so you really do need it to be door-to-door. (Bobby Jackson, Mission of Hope, Flint, Michigan)

“By protecting the water, we protect life”

I am not an activist. I am a grandmother who stood up. Because I live and grew up on the Cannonball River and the mouth of the Missouri River, I know my rivers and I know my water. We must protect the water at all costs. The water is an obligation of the females to protect because water is female, because through water we bring life into this world.

I have been on the ground for eight months, 28 days. I established Sacred Stone camp on April 1. We started off with about three people, and then it grew to 15 or 20. By July, we were in the thousands. By Labor Day weekend, we were 11,000 on the ground. By Thanksgiving, we were 15,000 on the ground. The world has come to stand with Standing Rock to protect the water.

Now as 2017 is upon us, all of these individuals who came to stand with us have gone to different parts of the United States and the world to protect their own water. When injustice happens people stand up, and this is injustice.

Every human being has the right to access to clean, potable water. That is why it’s in the forefront. It’s time. It’s time for the world to stand up. By protecting the water, we protect life. I will be opening a village [in 2017] to teach people how to be totally wind power, solar power, hydropower [reliant] and to teach people how to live with the earth again, how to respect the earth. (LaDonna Bravebull Allard, enrolled member of Standing Rock Sioux tribe and closest landowner to the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline)

Veterans march with activists near Backwater Bridge just outside of the Oceti Sakowin camp. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)


Veterans march with activists near Backwater Bridge just outside of the Oceti Sakowin camp. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

“If the rest of the country has no idea, it’s not really going to help”

I live in Southern Maryland and I haven’t been able to get to Sacred Stone, but I have been doing local activism. Me and a friend organized an event in Fredericksburg and informed people of what was happening and we made packets of information about NoDAPL and resources that people could use to support the fight. We weren’t met with a lot of friendly people. People were looking at us like they were offended just for us standing there and holding signs about it, but we did meet some people who were interested and asked questions. I’ve also been attending rallies in Washington, D.C.

I would like to be there [in Standing Rock]. It almost makes me feel helpless at times, but there need to be people raising awareness to what’s happening all over the country. You can have everyone in one area, but if the rest of the country has no idea, it’s not really going to help. From my experience with the events I organized, people didn’t know what was going on at all.

It felt empowering to me to be able to advocate for [Standing Rock] and bring awareness, because water crises are happening all over the country—in Flint and on other reservations. I also see it as a very symbolic message for Native people, because we’ve been so erased up until this point. Resistance has been ongoing but I really feel like Dakota Access brought visibility to indigenous issues. The fact that indigenous people came from all over the world to North Dakota, that’s huge to me.

I would like to take up the challenge brought by water protectors who asked people to be more involved in our local communities. This is about questioning our relationship—not only to each other, but to the land that’s being exploited. More mindfulness towards the land, the water, the resources, will mean more mindfulness when it comes to building relationships with each other. (Danielle Miller, contributor to The Last Real Indians)

“If we leave without fixing the problem, there will still be people suffering”

We have children who are afraid to brush their teeth with tap water and people who are struggling because they’re not able to cook with it. And people say, ‘Why don’t you leave? Why don’t you get out of there? You’re stupid for staying there.’ But if we leave without fixing the problem, then there will still be people suffering, and that’s not right. It’s a lot scarier than a lot of people realize.

I know communities in the Central Valley that have to wait daily for a truck of water to be taken to their homes so that they can take a shower, or where wells have dried completely. No matter what the state says about our water levels being within the threshold of what’s considered safe for arsenic, I know that no level of arsenic is safe. It just means that it’s under what the government has said is the limit.

I think people need to continue to educate themselves and let other people know. If it’s happening here, it could be happening in other communities that don’t even realize they have a problem. These years and years of campaigning and talking to [government officials] and sometimes being a thorn in their side, as long as we keep that up, we’ll eventually see that water plant and that will be a really good day in our community. (Maricela Mares Alatorre, GreenAction, San Joaquin Valley, California)

Well water has dried up in some of the towns in California’s Central Valley. (Gregory Bull/AP)


Well water has dried up in some of the towns in California’s Central Valley. (Gregory Bull/AP)

“Information about water quality needs to be accessible and understandable”

Looks can be deceiving. Many of the contaminants California communities are dealing with are colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Water polluted with nitrates, arsenic, and pesticides looks, smells, and tastes safe, but drinking contaminated water can cause nausea, miscarriages, and cancer.

Seeing other communities organizing around the right to safe and affordable water makes us feel connected to a larger water justice movement. We have been fighting for access to this basic human right for over a decade, and many community partners have been fighting for decades before that. It has definitely helped to have more awareness nationally and politically around this issue, but we have a long way to go. [In 2016] we helped put 678 East Porterville homes on track to receive safe, reliable water after many residents in this low-income, unincorporated community had gone more than three years without this basic human right.

Information about water quality needs to be accessible and understandable. Too many families are receiving conflicting or confusing notices. In some communities, basic health warnings are not even translated into the languages spoken by significant parts of the community. We also need to establish protective drinking water standards and require testing for the chemicals we know have contaminated too many of our drinking water sources. That is a basic function of government. For too long government agencies have been allowing chemicals to be applied to land without establishing protections for the drinking water sources.

1,2,3-TCP is an example of this. It took significant community advocacy to make this a priority and finally get regulators to start the process of establishing a drinking water limit. In California, we have succeeded in getting the state to create a Human Right to Water Indicator that is being launched in early 2017 to [highlight] which communities lack access to safe drinking water in our state. That is an important first step to being able to direct resources and action to ensure all communities have access to this basic right. (Jenny Rempel, Community Water Center, Central Valley, California)


County moving in right direction on well ordinance

By: The Porterville Recorder

December 14, 2016

Original Story:


It may have taken longer than some wanted, but Tulare County Supervisors last week agreed they need to look at some form of a well ordinance, but not tie the hands of rural residents or farmers.

Supervisors instructed county staff to come up with a draft ordinance which right now would place a moratorium on the drilling of new ag wells on land which is not presently being farmed.

The county also instructed staff to study the need for a hydrologist who could further study impacts on new well drilling.

What the supervisors stopped short of doing, and we agree, is placing a moratorium on all new well drilling in the county.

Tulare County has been the epicenter of the drought. More than 1,600 wells have gone dry, the majority of those shallow domestic wells and the majority of those in East Porterville. Five below-average rain years and a lack of snowpack, coupled with pumping restrictions in the San Joaquin Delta, forced farmers to rely on the underground water supply to produce a crop, and in some areas keep their permanent crops alive. Many growers had to let their orchards die because of the lack of surface water and no ability to pump water.

We agree with statements made by a couple of the supervisors that while farmers have been lowering their wells to reach a falling underground water supply, they are not pumping any more water than they did prior to the drought. Water is expensive and underground water is not as good for crops as is surface water. The water that flows out of the mountains into reservoirs and then should be sent to the Valley to sustain agriculture, is the least expensive and best water for crops. That surface water not only stops farmers from pumping from the underground, but it helps to replenish the underground water supply by seeping into the ground as it flows in the many canals and ditches.

The county has reached a point, in light of a lack of surface water, where it cannot let more farm land be developed. Supervisor Mike Ennis said the county should not allow new wells where land has not been farmed in years when there is a shortage of water for the farmland already in production.

We hope the county never has to stop all well drilling, but stopping the development of new wells for new ag land is not sustainable under the current conditions.


Allensworth and Alpaugh Featured in Groundwater Matters Film Premiere

Talking about groundwater regulations and governance can occasionally seem a little dry and boring, but it’s a huge issue for California. And while the drought may be dry, its potential implications for the state are anything but boring.

In fact, the future of California as a whole is tied up in the health of groundwater basins. Did you know, for example, that groundwater has been providing nearly two-thirds of the state’s water supply during the recent drought? Even if your water supply doesn’t use groundwater, there’s a good chance you’re connected to a system that does.


The NGO Groundwater Collaborative is premiering it's film "Groundwater Matters" soon and you can be part of it! See CWC's own Regional Water Management Coordinator, Kristin Dobbin, as well as local communities Allensworth and Alpaugh featured during the film. Sign up here, to reserve your spot in their upcoming webinar where the full film will be premiered and watch the trailer here!

State Letter to Farmers Demands Water to Fix Nitrate Problem

By Lewis Griswold, The Fresno Bee
October 21, 2016



A state water agency has told some farmers in Tulare County that their operations caused nitrates to get into drinking water, and that the contamination must be replaced with a clean source.

Farmers say, ‘No apologies,’ as well drilling hits record levels in San Joaquin Valley

By Ryan Sabalow, Dale Kasler and Phillip Reese

September 25, 2015

Original article:

Drive through rural Tulare County and you’ll hear it soon enough, a roar from one of the hundreds of agricultural pumps pulling water from beneath the soil to keep the nut and fruit orchards and vast fields of corn and alfalfa lush and green under the scorching San Joaquin Valley sun.

Well water is keeping agriculture alive in Tulare County – and much of the rest of the San Joaquin Valley – through five years of California’s historic drought. Largely cut off from the supplies normally delivered via canals by the federal and state water projects, farmers have been drilling hundreds of feet into the ground to bring up the water they need to turn a profit.

Two years after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill designed to limit groundwater pumping, new wells are going in faster and deeper than ever. Farmers dug about 2,500 wells in the San Joaquin Valley last year alone, the highest number on record. That was five times the annual average for the previous 30 years, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of state and local data.

The new groundwater law won’t kick in until 2020, and won’t become fully implemented for another 20 years. In the meantime, farmers say they will continuing drilling and pumping. It’s their right, they say, and their only practical choice given the government’s limited surface water deliveries.

“Just like a guy that owns a hardware store who sells nothing but shovels, say I cut you off and decide not to supply you with shovels, are you going to close your store or are you going to get shovels from somebody else?” said Wayne Western Jr., a wine grape grower near Firebaugh in the parched west side of Fresno County.


“It’s a business. I’ll make no apologies for trying to stay in business and being successful,” said Western, who’s been relying almost exclusively on well water the past three years. “That’s what we do here.”

Part of what’s driving the well-drilling frenzy is a kind of groundwater arms race. Aquifers don’t respect property lines, and in many cases farmers with older, shallower wells are afraid of losing water to neighbors who are digging deeper wells and lowering the groundwater table. So they invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to drill new wells of their own. All told, farmers are expected to spend $303 million this year alone to pump groundwater, according to UC Davis researchers.

“Business is good; we’ve got plenty of work to do,” said driller Steve Arthur, who runs Arthur & Orum Well Drilling Inc. in Fresno.

On a recent weekday, Arthur was overseeing the drilling of a massive 1,200-foot well beneath an almond orchard in the tiny Tulare County community of Poplar. A few years ago, the typical well was only half as deep.

“These farmers, they’re learning if they go deeper, they’re going to get more water and they won’t have to drill as often,” Arthur said, shouting over the din of a drill rig. “If the government don’t give us any water, what’s the farmer supposed to do?”

The new well in Poplar cost about $260,000.

Arthur said he expects to drill about 260 new wells this year throughout the San Joaquin Valley. That’s about the same as last year, although the well-drilling industry isn’t quite as frantic now. Prices for new wells are off slightly, and some of Arthur’s Johnny-come-lately competitors – the so-called “drought chasers” – have left town. But Arthur, who farms 200 acres of almonds, said he thinks the well-drilling business won’t sputter anytime soon.

“When the farmer gets up in the morning, the last thing he wants to do is spend $200,000, $300,000 on a well,” Arthur said. “But if he wants to stay in business, that’s what he’s got to do.”

From 2012 through 2015, San Joaquin Valley farmers dug more than 5,000 wells, more than were dug cumulatively over the previous 12 years.

In Fresno and Tulare counties, where most of the drilling occurred, officials issued an average of almost 10 agricultural well permits every business day in 2015, though not all of those permits were used. That pace has fallen some in the first few months of 2016, but remains well above pre-drought levels. Tulare and Fresno are two of the three largest agricultural counties in the state, as measured by farm revenue.

As farmers ramp up drilling and install larger, more powerful pumps, aquifers that had quietly flourished beneath the soil for thousands of years are dropping at dangerous rates. It’s accelerating a phenomenon known as subsidence, in which some parts of the valley floor are sinking.

The problems of groundwater overdraft are most pronounced in the San Joaquin Valley, but they’re not limited to there.

“It’s a five-alarm fire in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Jay Ziegler of the Nature Conservancy, which has pleaded for stricter statewide restrictions on pumping. “But it’s a four-alarm fire in other areas around the state.”

The well drilling has exacted a substantial human cost in some of California’s poorest rural communities – the ones populated by workers who tend the fields kept green by all that groundwater.

Falling water tables mean underground pollutants become more concentrated, and in some cases municipal drinking-water wells fail altogether. By one estimate, about 30 percent of the communities in Tulare County have had problems with failing wells.

In East Porterville, hundreds of residents lost water in recent years. Tomas Garcia remembers the day in April 2014 when his shallow well failed. At work at a local tire shop, he got a call from his wife when their shower suddenly stopped working. What followed was a year of hauling water in 5-gallon buckets, to the point that the shocks on the family van blew out.


“No church, nothing. I was just hauling water,” he said. “I had no time for my family.” He also didn’t have the $55,000 necessary to drill down to reach the receding groundwater.

In April 2015, Garcia’s house was connected to a 2,500-gallon water tank that’s refilled by tanker truck once a week. Like hundreds of other homes in East Porterville, where some streets are unpaved and the sounds of barking dogs and braying livestock mingle with mariachi music, the black tank now takes up most of the Garcia family’s small front yard, an obelisk-like monument to the drought.

Just recently the town got a lifeline when officials announced it would be hooked up to the municipal water supply in nearby Porterville. All told, the state estimates it has spent more than $148 million bringing drinking water to Tulare County communities where municipal wells failed because of dropping groundwater levels.

One of the more recent crises flared in August in Woodville, a largely agricultural town of 1,700 surrounded by farm fields and irrigation pumps. One of its two drinking water wells suffered a mechanical failure that the utility district attributed to fluctuations in the water table.

Without enough flow to stave off bacterial contamination, town officials issued an advisory urging residents to boil water. It stayed in place for nearly three weeks before the well could be repaired. At the elementary school, across the street from a fruit and nut processing plant, signs on doors and above drinking fountains warned students, “Don’t drink the water.”

During the crisis, Ralph Gutierrez, manager of Woodville’s utility district, said that because there wasn’t enough pressure in the town’s waterlines, he had no choice but to cite residents he caught spritzing lawns and landscaping with garden hoses.

He noted with irony that even as he was fining residents for their water use, he recently counted 60 new agricultural wells just outside town during one week of his daily commute.

But the response he got was icy when he suggested to farmers at a recent community meeting that they accept limits on groundwater pumping.

“If looks could kill, I would have been crucified,” said Gutierrez, a familiar figure around town with his bushy mustache, weathered Dodgers cap and pack of smokes in his shirt pocket.

Others have pushed for local pumping limits, with similar results.

Kristin Dobbin, who works at a Visalia nonprofit advocacy group called the Community Water Center, has been pushing the Tulare Board of Supervisors to adopt a county ordinance that would put limits on groundwater. Supervisors have yet to cast a vote more than a year later.

Steve Worthley, one of the supervisors, said he’s wary of limiting groundwater pumping, given agriculture’s importance to Tulare County. Besides, there’s always the possibility that the rains might return and the groundwater pumping will taper off.

“There might become a weather pattern where we might be like Louisiana, where we might get more water than we know what to do with,” Worthley said. “So we want to be careful we don’t put into place laws that hamstring our ability to be the fruit basket of the nation.”

In conversations throughout the valley, it’s also clear that farmers seethe with anger at the government for not sending more surface water their way. While much of California remains unusually dry, precipitation levels returned to normal in Northern California last winter, bringing key reservoirs back to relatively healthy levels.

Farmers feel they haven’t gotten their fair share of that water. The reason? State and federal officials allowed more water to flow through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and out to the Pacific Ocean during portions of winter and spring to try to revive the native fish species, including salmon and smelt, whose numbers have plummeted in the drought.

“The farmers need the water, you know,” said Kulwant Gadri, a Tulare County almond grower who’s spending more than $1 million this year on new wells. If an almond orchard goes longer than two months without it, “the orchard is gone.”

The situation is getting so dire, said Arthur, the Fresno well driller, that he questions whether the 2014 state law placing limits on pumping will ever get implemented.

“They stop drilling wells, they’re going to kill this valley,” he said. “They may never get this law going.”

State officials say the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act will take effect. But, by design, it’s a go-slow approach and doesn’t directly put limits on drilling.

Instead, starting in 2020, newly formed groundwater management agencies overseeing basins deemed critically overdrafted must develop plans for making their aquifers sustainable within 20 years. “Sustainable” generally means districts must ensure groundwater basins don’t drop below their January 2015 levels, said David Gutierrez, who is supervising the rollout of the new law at the state Department of Water Resources.

Gutierrez defends the gradual approach, arguing that bringing a swift halt to groundwater pumping would cripple a farm economy that’s already struggling. After a string of record years, farm revenue last year fell by $9 billion statewide, in part because of water shortages but also because of declining prices in key commodities.

“We can’t afford to swing so quickly and so fast,” Gutierrez said. “We’re not going to turn it on a dime. ...We have to understand the social ramification of what we’re doing, too.”

The go-slow concept was driven home in the state Legislature this year. Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, introduced a bill sponsored by the Nature Conservancy that in effect would have put the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act on a faster track. Her bill, SB 1317, would have prohibited counties from issuing permits for new wells that would have contributed to “undesirable impacts” in critically overdrafted groundwater basins.

The bill narrowly passed the Senate, but failed to get a hearing in the Assembly amid significant opposition. Among those weighing in: the California Chamber of Commerce, California Farm Bureau Federation and associations representing rice, tomato, cotton and citrus growers.

Back in Woodville, utility manager Ralph Gutierrez says officials need to act soon to prevent more wells from failing in other impoverished communities. He fears regulators are forgetting that farmworkers in these towns play as important a role in California agriculture as the groundwater farmers are pumping into their crops.

“Without farming, would this community be here? No,” he said. “Would the farming happen if we didn’t have farmworkers? No. So, you know, I don’t know what the answer is, but we’ve got to find a happy medium somewhere, because we can’t exist without the other.”



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