Community Water Center

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Pages tagged "Groundwater"

Fresno County Board of Supervisors Take First Step Toward Developing Interim Groundwater Ordinance!



On Tuesday, Nov. 17th, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of applying for state funding to develop an interim groundwater ordinance. This is a huge step forwards for a region where thousands of residents lack running water due to excessive groundwater pumping. After four years of drought, we need to take local action now to mitigate impacts and protect our most vulnerable residents.

Since January 2014, Fresno County has issued over 2,800 well drilling permits with few restrictions despite the adverse impacts of these new wells on rural residents in our fourth year of severe drought. With thousands of dry household wells in the San Joaquin Valley, our counties need to do a better job monitoring well drilling and addressing the negative impacts of virtually unrestricted groundwater pumping. At the Board of Supervisors meeting, Kristin Dobbin of the Community Water Center, Leticia Corona of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and Austin Hall of the Fresno Regional Partnership attended to testify in support of applying for state funding to develop an interim groundwater ordinance.

By voting to include funding for the development of a groundwater ordinance, the Board of Supervisors took a huge step forward towards protecting our most vulnerable residents and setting the County on the path towards sustainable groundwater management, as mandated by the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Once the funding application is approved, our next step will be to work with Fresno County to ensure the interim groundwater ordinance adequately protects our valuable groundwater resources and prioritizes the human right to water.  

New Report Outlines Strategies for Better Groundwater Management




JULY 30, 2015                                                                                                                                                                      



“Collaborating for Success” provides local agencies with tools to achieve sustainable groundwater management through stakeholder engagement.

A new report out today from Community Water Center, Clean Water Fund, and Union of Concerned Scientists highlights opportunities and strategies for engaging diverse stakeholders in California’s new system of groundwater management. “Collaborating For Success” draws on a wealth of research demonstrating the critical role of stakeholder engagement in achieving successful shared resource management.

The report demonstrates that while stakeholder engagement requires time and resources in the short term, the benefits of improved outcomes, optimized resources, and broad support and reduced conflict can make these efforts invaluable in the long term. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA) establishes a timeline that requires most groundwater basins in California to achieve sustainable management of their groundwater resources by 2042. The law establishes that stakeholder engagement and collaboration are key to achieving the objectives outlined in SGMA, but it provides few details about how best to engage diverse stakeholders.

With little guidance about how to implement the statutory requirements for stakeholder engagement, many local agencies charged with implementing the law remain unclear about questions such as: How can local agencies effectively engage diverse groups? How much and what type of engagement is needed? What outcomes can be expected if these interests participate?

The report, “Collaborating for Success: Stakeholder engagement for Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Implementation,” answers these questions and provides tools to help local agencies maximize the benefits of stakeholder engagement. Drawing on best practices and examples of collaborative management from around the state, the report provides a recommended roadmap for effective stakeholder engagement in SGMA implementation.

The full report is available for download here.




Juliet Christian-Smith

Union of Concerned Scientists

(510) 384-4343

Jennifer Clary

Clean Water Fund

(707) 483-6352

Kristin Dobbin

Community Water Center

(801) 230-5537

California well drilling records to be made public

By Ian James, The Desert Sun
June 28, 2015


California is about to dramatically increase the amount of information it makes public about the state's groundwater.

Under new legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, the state will begin making available well drilling reports that have been kept confidential for decades. That will open up a trove of information about the construction of approximately 800,000 wells for scientists and others who are seeking detailed data to better analyze California's drought-stressed water supplies.

"Now that we have this data and these tools, we can finally start managing our groundwater resources properly, and that's huge," said Deborah Ores, an attorney and legislative advocate in Sacramento for the Community Water Center, which focuses on areas of the Central Valley where wells have been going dry and people have been struggling for years with contaminated water supplies.

Until now, California had been the only western state that prohibited the release of reports submitted by well drillers. In other states, those well drilling logs have long been publicly available.

The secrecy began in California in 1951, just two years after the Legislature first required well drillers to start filing the reports. That change was adopted at least in part because some drillers at the time wanted the information not to be divulged, apparently because they didn't want competitors to have details about their operations.

Since 2011, Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) had repeatedly proposed bills aimed at opening up the well reports to the public.

Water scientists supported the change, saying that having more information about wells will help in efforts to manage California's groundwater.

"This is going to be an important step forward and a very essential data piece to help us manage the resource, both from a water quality and from a water quantity perspective," said Thomas Harter, a groundwater hydrologist at the University of California, Davis. "It'll be important for us to better understand the architecture of our aquifers."

California already makes public its data on groundwater levels measured in certain wells across the state. The well logs, which are kept by the state Department of Water Resources, provide other sorts of information that drillers must submit to the state each time they construct a well.

Each report includes information such the geological layers found during drilling, the depth of the well, the water level at the time and the depth of the well screen – the filtering device where water is drawn out.

"It'll be much easier in the future to link water quality data to the actual depth from which water samples were collected," Harter said. "So we can actually map water quality in three dimensions rather than just in two dimensions."

Ores said the information in the well logs will also be helpful in areas where communities are looking for new water sources and where portions of the groundwater are tainted with hazardous contaminants such as nitrates or arsenic.

"We can look at these well logs and look at where are there areas that are pumping safe water," Ores said. "And you can use that information to figure out where a new well can be drilled so a community can get that safe water."

Some farming groups and agricultural water districts in the Central Valley opposed opening up the well logs. They argued the change would infringe on private property rights, would lead to lawsuits and could give away the locations of well sites to metal thieves looking to steal pieces of water infrastructure. Harter said he thinks those fears are unjustified.

The state Department of Water Resources has said it plans to make public the locations of wells while redacting the names and personal addresses of well owners.

"The issue that will arise is when the well location and the owner's address are the same," Ores said. "But even if we could get approximate locations of where wells are, it is still extremely beneficial to understanding groundwater basins. Because if it's within a quarter mile or so, you're still going to understand what the basin looks like."


Original story:

Convening Focuses on Effective Stakeholder Engagement in Sustainable Groundwater Management


Residents, water providers, and local agencies participating in a workshop in April on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014.

Eighteen individuals from across the state came together on May 20th to provide feedback on the discussion draft of a new report co-authored by CWC’s Kristin Dobbin (and Laurel Firestone) on stakeholder engagement in groundwater management. The report on Effective Stakeholder Participation for Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) Implementation was co-authored with Clean Water Action and Union of Concerned Scientists, with support from the California Water Foundation. It provides case studies of the benefits of stakeholder participation, analysis of the legal requirements for stakeholder engagement, and a recommended roadmap for SGMA implementation. Roundtable attendees ranged from academics to water managers to agency officials, and the meeting provided a forum for integrating knowledge across stakeholders and agencies. Kristin is now incorporating feedback into a final report which will be released later this summer.

More information, including fact sheets and upcoming workshop dates, is available here

Tribes, Fishermen, and EJ Groups Encouraged by New Groundwater Laws

September 16, 2014

Sara Aminzadeh, California Coastkeeper Alliance, 415-794-8422 (cell),
Jenny Rempel, Community Water Center, 916-706-3346 (office), 559-284-6327 (cell),


California Tribes, Fishermen, and Environmental Justice Groups Encouraged by Governor Signature of Groundwater Reform Package

Groups Focus on Swift Implementation During Worst Recorded Drought in History 

Sacramento, CA – Today, Governor Brown signed a package of groundwater bills (Assembly Bill 1739, Senate Bill 1168, and Senate Bill 1319) that will establish a framework for more sustainable groundwater management in California.  California’s existing laws provide little protection for communities and ecosystems that rely upon groundwater.  The three bills require the development of groundwater sustainability plans in high and medium priority basins, and require that those plans set enforceable goals to achieve sustainable groundwater management.  One of the worst droughts in recorded history created a sense of urgency that paved the way for unprecedented groundwater reforms in California.  Fishing groups, tribes, and environmental justice organizations now urge swift action to implement the long-overdue reforms of California’s groundwater management.

In response, the following individuals and organizations issued the following statements:

Konrad Fisher, Klamath Riverkeeper: “Unregulated groundwater extraction has been depleting our streams and rivers for too long. This legislation alone will not protect ecosystems from excessive groundwater extraction, but it's a historic step in the right direction. Now it’s the responsibility of local groundwater managers to protect ecosystems and surface water right holders from excessive groundwater withdrawals.”

Leaf Hillman, Director of the Karuk Tribe’s Department of Natural Resources: “We can’t sit idly by while water is literally sucked out from under our rivers and fisheries. We must act now to protect California’s groundwater resources.”

Zeke Grader, Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations: "Managing groundwater is critical to maintaining surface water flows in many basins.  And, of course, surface water flows are critical for the survival of our economically important salmon runs, as well as other fish species."

Laurel Firestone, Community Water Center: “Safe, affordable, and accessible drinking water is a human right. These new laws create real, substantive change in the State’s ability to address the needs of communities that lack safe drinking water to meet their basic needs.” 

Phoebe Seaton, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability: “With this action, we have taken a historic step toward ensuring that individuals, families and communities reliant on groundwater have a role in protecting that resource.” 

Governor Signs Historic Groundwater Legislation

September 16, 2014

Omar Carrillo, Policy Analyst, 916-706-3346 (office), 619-829-3553 (cell), or

Governor Signs Historic Groundwater Legislation

Community Water Center celebrates the beginning of a new era of inclusive, sustainable groundwater management

Sacramento – Today, Governor Brown signed into law an historic trio of bills to manage state groundwater supplies.

The Community Water Center (CWC) advocated for Assembly Bill 1739 (Dickinson), Senate Bill 1168 (Pavley), and Senate Bill 1319 (Pavley), because this legislation provides an opportunity for sustainable groundwater regulation that would benefit all users.

“Safe, clean, and affordable drinking water is a human right,” said Laurel Firestone, CWC Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director. “These new laws create real, substantive change in the State’s ability to address the needs of communities that lack safe drinking water to meet their basic needs.”

As the last state in the West without groundwater regulation, Californians have been depleting groundwater supplies for decades. Unmeasured and uncontrolled pumping has led to dry wells, drinking water pollution, and land subsidence.

“This legislation came together through a highly collaborative and consultative process, with input from water managers, farmers, counties, cities, environmental groups, community groups, business leaders, homeowners, and many local water leaders from the San Joaquin Valley,” said Susana De Anda, CWC Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director.

The legislation requires regionally controlled groundwater management agencies to develop groundwater sustainability plans. The laws require transparency and include small and disadvantaged communities in the planning and management process. If the regional agencies fail to demonstrate adequate, measurable progress within 20 years, the state is authorized to intervene.

“This legislation is just the first step,” De Anda said. “The hard work to create just, effective, and transparent management plans starts now.”



Read more details about the new groundwater laws here.

California Passes Historic Groundwater Legislation

September 4, 2014

Omar Carrillo, Policy Analyst, 916-706-3346 (office), 619-829-3553 (cell), or


California Passes Historic Groundwater Legislation

Community Water Center urges Governor Brown to sign legislation for inclusive, sustainable groundwater management  

Sacramento – On Friday, the California Legislature passed an historic trio of bills to protect state groundwater supplies.

The Community Water Center (CWC) advocated for Assembly Bill 1739 (Dickinson), Senate Bill 1168 (Pavley), and Senate Bill 1319 (Pavley), because this legislation provides an opportunity for sustainable groundwater regulation that would benefit all users.

“Safe, clean, and affordable drinking water is a human right,” said Laurel Firestone, CWC Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director. “The passage of this package of bills creates real, substantive change in the State’s ability to address the needs of communities that lack safe drinking water to meet their basic needs.”

As the last state in the West without groundwater regulation, Californians have been depleting groundwater supplies for decades. Unmeasured and uncontrolled pumping has led to dry wells, drinking water pollution, and land subsidence.

The legislation requires regionally controlled groundwater management agencies to develop groundwater sustainability plans. The bills require transparency and include small and disadvantaged communities in the planning and management process. If the regional agencies fail to demonstrate adequate, measurable progress within 20 years, the state is authorized to intervene.

The bills faced opposition from agricultural interests and key legislative members, but amendments and new language from the Administration led to the bills’ passage on the last day of the legislative session.

"Change is hard, but necessary,” said Jesus Quevedo, AGUA member and Cutler resident. “Even though our [Central] Valley representatives did not vote in favor, I am glad outside Valley representatives do understand this need. I am happy and also encouraged to continue to educate our Valley representatives."

The Community Water Center urges Governor Brown to sign this historic legislation.

The Public Eye: As drought persists, frustration mounts over secrecy of California's well drilling logs

By Tom Knudson
Sacramento Bee


Inside a government warehouse along a noisy freeway in West Sacramento is a set of metal shelves holding more than 100 carefully labeled cardboard boxes.

Inside those boxes are tens of thousands of state records that could help scientists and water policy specialists better understand and protect California groundwater.

070614_sacbee-2.jpegBut while all other Western states make such records – known as well completion reports, or well logs, for short – open to the public, California does not.

Here, access to the documents is restricted. While some government agencies and researchers can view them, many scientists and the public at large cannot, a barrier many say reins in knowledge about groundwater supplies as the state struggles with one of the worst droughts in recorded history.

“We’re basically blindfolding ourselves,” said Laurel Firestone, co-director of the Community Water Center, a Visalia-based nonprofit, who argues that access to the records could help improve water quality. “If California is going to be serious about managing its groundwater, it can’t possibly do that without accessible and transparent data.”

By now, the contours of California’s groundwater crisis are familiar: the dried-up wells, sinking farmland, over-tapped aquifers and growing push for more state oversight. But on the edges of that drama is a back story that’s been largely overlooked about groundwater data, government secrecy and scientific opportunities lost.

Groundwater is critical to California. Without it, agriculture collapses, cities shrink, ecosystems die. Yet while our knowledge of rivers and reservoirs is exhaustive, we know far less about water stored inside the earth, including how much can be safely pumped without depleting aquifers and sowing long-term harm.

“Imagine trying to manage a reservoir where you’re not sure what the boundaries of the reservoir are. You’re not sure how much water gets in, how much water gets out, or what the level is,” said Graham Fogg, a professor of hydrogeology at UC Davis.

“Groundwater management is kind of like that,” Fogg said. “You are trying to manage systems that are ill-defined and ill-understood.”

Well completion reports help chart that underworld. Like medical charts, they are filled with data and notes that help researchers and water managers understand a complex system they can’t actually see.

In all other Western states, such records are accessible to whomever wants to see them – from university professors to civil engineers, real estate agents to the media. But in California, well logs are barred from public inspection by a 63-year-old law written to keep data gathered by well-drilling companies from falling into the hands of competitors.

“The lack of information about well logs makes no sense, particularly as we are trying hard to manage a diminishing public trust resource,” said Jeffrey Mount, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank in San Francisco. “This is another one of those anachronistic statutes that does not belong in a modern water management system,” Mount said.

As water tables drop to record lows, even some drillers now favor more transparency. “We know there can’t be very good planning without some availability, because that’s the only knowledge we have – all of us,” said John Hofer, executive director of the California Groundwater Association, which represents well drillers.

“By and large, we are much more amenable to making them available,” Hofer added. “Personally, I think the time has come to have better science and regulations. We want to be on the cutting edge of the new science.”

Two legislative efforts in the past three years to make the records more accessible have failed. Opposition remains strong among farmers who fear release of the records could raise questions about who’s pumping how much and where, and invite lawsuits and restrictions on groundwater use that is unregulated in many places. Others worry that disclosing the locations of public supply wells could lead to an act of terrorism.

“I don’t see a real benefit for throwing a lot of that information out for public demand,” said Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization. “Those who are in authority and who have a need to know have access to it now.”

Gov. Jerry Brown disagrees. In 2011, he vetoed a bill that would have expanded well log access to academics and other groundwater professionals because he felt it was still too restrictive.

“The original intent of this bill recognized that wise management and use of groundwater supply requires public disclosure of well logs,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “Unfortunately, as amended, this bill now unduly restricts the use of these reports and imposes severe criminal penalties for disclosure.

“California is the only Western state that does not provide ready access to well reports,” Brown added. “That should be changed.”

Connecting the dots

The roots of California’s closed system reach back to post World War II when sewage and industrial waste were fouling groundwater, in part because of poorly built wells that transported pollution into aquifers.

Lawmakers wanted information. They passed a law in 1949 requiring drillers to submit reports for wells they bored. “Such information … would be invaluable” for managing groundwater quality, a legislative committee reported. “It would also provide a tremendous fund of geologic information which is now lacking with regard to many of the underground reservoirs of the state.”

Compliance, though, was spotty because drillers did not want to disclose data that might help competitors find the best places to drill. So two years later, lawmakers came up with a solution. They passed a law, California Water Code Section 13752, declaring that well logs “shall not be made available for inspection by the public….”

“It is believed that if such information is not open to public inspection, more complete and accurate information will be received,” said a 1951 memo from the state’s deputy director of public works to Gov. Earl Warren.

The strategy worked. Over the past six decades, California’s stockpile of well logs has grown to about 800,000 documents. Laid end to end, that’s enough paper to circle Lake Tahoe twice.

Well logs are short – but not simple. Only one page long, they are crammed with data about well drilling that is squeezed onto a maze-like grid of lines and boxes. Filling one out is so complex, the state provides drillers with a 29-page instruction manual, complete with references.

But while the quality of the data varies, those dry forms help scientists navigate a subterranean landscape that provides 30 percent to 40 percent of the state’s water, even more during a drought. Logs don’t record how much water is pumped, but they do reveal where wells are located, their depth, diameter and the geological material they are bored through.

Researchers can use such information to create computer images that chart the size, shape and thickness of water-bearing layers and how water cycles through and between them. Such efforts help managers better understand how aquifers function and – in an era of drought and climate change – how much pumping they can withstand without being depleted.

“It’s kind of like playing dot-to-dot,” said Chris Petersen, vice president of the Groundwater Resources Association of California, which represents professionals in the field. “If you have a lot of dots – and those dots are drillers’ logs – you can put together a high-resolution picture of what’s happening in the sub-surface.

“If you have limited dots, you’re still going to get some picture, but it may or may not be accurate,” Petersen added. “That’s why logs are so important.”

While the public can’t view logs, the Legislature did make an exception in the 1951 law that allowed access “to government agencies for use in making studies.” That passage has been narrowly interpreted, so that even scientists who work for public universities sometimes can’t gain access.

“It was maddening, absolutely maddening,” said Fogg, the UC Davis hydrogeologist who three years ago was thwarted in his attempts to obtain well logs for a study of groundwater sustainability and contamination on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley funded by the National Science Foundation.

“I don’t know of any state that makes these proprietary the way California does,” Fogg said. “I’ve been in California for 25 years. Before that, I worked 11 years in Texas.

“In Texas, the drillers’ log information is public. You would think that Texas – with a much more pro-business climate – would allow this stuff to be proprietary. But it’s never been that way. California, in that respect, is backward. You are operating with a hand tied behind your back,” Fogg said.

State officials say UC Davis does not meet the definition of a government agency, nor does the National Science Foundation, which is funded by the federal government.

“The law doesn’t include him,” said Paula Landis, a division chief with the Department of Water Resources, when asked about Fogg. “He has to ask somebody who fits within the definition of the law. The National Science Foundation doesn’t.”

For official eyes only

Water department spokeswoman Nancy Vogel said her agency takes its cue from the Legislature, which differentiates between which government agencies can access logs and which can’t.

“Most requests for well reports come from entities that are obvious government agencies, as defined by Government Code section 1150,” Vogel said by email. Examples include counties, cities, municipal corporations and water districts.
“But if a request comes to us from someone who does not fit that definition, we look to how that entity is treated by the Legislature,” she added. “The University of California, California State University and community colleges are not defined as governmental agencies by the Legislature for most purposes. So DWR does not define them as governmental agencies, either.

“The Legislature could change the law to say universities are governmental entities … and we’d turn over the data to university researchers,” Vogel added. “It would be simple for us.”

Even researchers who do obtain logs by going through a state-approved agency face restrictions. They must sign a release agreement promising that “information obtained from these reports shall be kept confidential and shall not be disseminated, published or made available for inspection by the public. Copies shall be stamped CONFIDENTIAL and shall be kept in a restricted file accessible only to agency staff or the authorized agent.”

For nongovernment scientists, access is so restricted that most don’t try. That means questions about where and how groundwater is polluted and how much can be pumped without depleting water supplies often go unanswered.

“Right now, we have communities whose wells have gone dry, completely. They are literally living out of water in buckets for their basic bathing needs,” said Firestone, co-director of the Community Water Center, which works in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Is agricultural pumping causing the problem? Well logs could provide a clue by showing where wells are located – but the Community Water Center can’t access them. “Knowing where wells exist seems fundamental to being able to manage groundwater,” Firestone said.

Data on logs also show at what depth wells are perforated to tap into groundwater – a detail that can help reveal how agricultural chemicals, such as nitrates and pesticides, flow from one part of an aquifer system to another.

“It’s a really important thing to know,” Firestone said. “We can’t access any of that information because well completion reports are confidential.

“In California, we are a center of innovation. We’ve done incredible water management and engineering feats – and yet we are living in the Dark Ages with access to basic data,” she said.

Petersen, vice president of the Groundwater Resources Association, echoed those concerns: “Why are we so worried about the sharing of well log information when it affects our ability to manage an incredibly huge water resource in the state?” he said.

“I am always bumping up against trying to understand subsurface conditions with limited information,” Petersen added. “There is such a need for improved management of groundwater in the state. We need to have our hands on this basic information.”

Last year, even the California Department of Water Resources joined the ranks of those calling for transparency.

The agency spelled out its position in a comprehensive draft management blueprint called the California Water Plan, 2013 Update. In a chapter titled “Roadmap for Action,” the department called on policymakers to “make publicly available existing Well Completion Reports to allow improved analysis of groundwater data.”

“You can definitely say DWR favors making the well logs public,” Vogel, the department spokeswoman, said in an email .

‘Bread off my table’

But in a state where groundwater is tied to property rights, and management of the resource plays out at local and regional levels, many remain wary of making the records public.

In some cases, that resistance comes from public water suppliers worried about the risk of sabotage by terrorists. “Although many other Western states are doing this, I am not of the mind that just because everyone else has a black eye, I should have one, too,” said Meg Catzen-Brown, a lobbyist for the Central Basin Water Association in Los Angeles County, at a 2011 Senate hearing.

“We are very concerned about the security implications of making these well logs available to the general public,” Catzen-Brown said.

Supporters note that more than 150 California public water suppliers – including the city of Davis and the Sacramento County Water Agency – already make such information public.

“You can do Google searches for urban water plans and they have city wells located in those plans,” said Vicki Kretsinger Grabert, principal hydrologist for Luhdorff & Scalmanini Consulting Engineers in Woodland. “You can find the information. It seems like a rationale that doesn’t hold much weight.”

Although opposition from well drillers has softened over the decades, many still worry about divulging data on logs to competitors. “We have records going back to the 1920s. On occasion, it gives us an advantage,” said Augie Guardino, general manager of Guardino Well Drilling in Morgan Hill. “I don’t want to hand that over freely to someone who might take bread off my table.”

Some of the stiffest opposition comes from the state’s farmers who have long tapped groundwater at will and view disclosure of well drilling data as a potential conduit for regulation or litigation.

“Folks are afraid, frankly, that as the general public goes out and looks at that well construction data, they start infringing upon and creating individual personal property risk,” said David Orth, general manager of the Kings River Conservation District, which promotes the efficient use of groundwater in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

“What’s to preclude somebody from suing somebody because they’ve concluded that well construction creates a contamination plume or impacts indirectly the water supply of a neighboring well or community?”

Orth said his district already helps groundwater researchers obtain well logs for a variety of studies. “The question is: What additional public interest is served if we let the public have access to those things?” he said.

But even in California’s agricultural heartland, where water tables are dropping as large swaths of land are converted to almond orchards and other water-intensive crops, many people want to know more about what’s happening to the aquifers under their feet.

That includes Mary and Gerald Vieira, a retired couple who have lived in rural Denair southeast of Modesto since the 1970s.

After their well went dry last year, they paid $14,000 to have a new one drilled. Now – as the drought intensifies and groundwater pumping in the region increases – they worry how long current reserves will last.

“I’m a lot more scared this year than I was last year,” said Gerald, 71. “I thought maybe we were going to have a place to pass onto our kids. I’m not so sure that is going to happen now.”

“Or even that they would want it,” said Mary, 68. “It’s such a can of worms.”

They keep the well completion report for their new well locked in a fireproof safe along with other important documents. But they are frustrated that data on the form are confidential under state law. “It doesn’t make sense,” Mary said. “Why are they compiling the information if they’re never going to do anything with it?

“They should be utilizing it to protect all of us,” she added. “What if they did that with cancer patients? They would never find a cure.”



Drought Intensifies Push for Better California Groundwater Management

By Pauline Bartolone
Capital Public Radio


This story is Part 2 in a two-part series about how communities are affected by the drought and the state's effort to manage groundwater more sustainably.

Part 1: The 'Deepest Straw Wins' In Central Valley Scramble for Groundwater.

Californians are becoming more reliant on underground water during the drought. But policymakers and environmental groups agree better management of the resource is needed.

Vic Bruno’s home isn’t connected to a public water system. Like most rural homeowners in Madera County, his water comes from a deep hole in the ground.

"It’s a three-quarter-inch pipe that goes all the way down 300 feet," he says.

Bruno has lived here for 25 years. His ranch is also home to a whole gang of farm animals. So when his well started pumping up sand, he thought of them.

"I’ve got horses, sheep, pigs. These guys need water," he says.

Bruno has water, for now. But he’s at the bottom of his well. He’s been told he’ll have to drill deeper.

“I don’t think anybody’s prepared to pay $16,000 to $30,000 out of their income," he says. "I’m 61 years old, I have my finances set for retirement, not for this”

He’s convinced that the nut-tree farmers just down the road are to blame – but that’s hard to say. Central Valley regional water regulators don’t keep track of who is using how much well water. Nor does the state.

"We are seeing a doubling or more of permits, some related to persons out of water, but some related to new construction as well," says Wayne Fox, who is with the Environmental Health Division of Fresno County, located south of Madera.

Local agencies, not the state, manage groundwater in California. But the extent of their monitoring and authority varies widely. Fox says Fresno County hasn’t denied one well permit this year.

“The fact that surface water isn’t available to our Westside farmers has caused a very large surge in those farmers drilling wells where they didn’t have a well before," says Fox.

Laurel Firestone, with the Community Water Center, says the situation has turned into "a free for all."

"Anyone that can afford to stick a straw into the ground and drill a well can pump close to as much as they need or want," she says.

California state water managers say groundwater levels have been at all time lows in most areas of the state since 2008, especially in the San Joaquin Valley.

Firestone says it’s hard to manage a resource effectively when governments don’t have basic information.

"One of the components of starting to manage groundwater sustainably, is ensuring that we have adequate data, that we have data on where wells are, and how they’re being used, how much water is being pumped,” says Firestone.

She says local agencies don’t have clear powers over groundwater use. But that’s something the Governor’s administration is hoping to change this year.

California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross says a number of agencies are working on a long-term sustainability plan.   

“It’s very important that we not try to dictate 'one-size fits all'" says Ross.

She says California’s landscapes are so diverse, groundwater is best managed by local agencies. But in its plan, the state would be a backstop when, for example, there is no local political will.     

“Where we have severely impacted groundwater basins, the state is also signaling that we will step in to actually develop a plan until the locals are able to take that over themselves," says Ross. 

The state water board already has the power to intervene in cases of wasteful or unreasonable water use. That power has rarely been in dealing with groundwater.

California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger says if policymakers aren’t careful when creating new groundwater rules, the state’s farmers could suffer something similar to the mortgage crisis. 

"We have a lot of farmers trying to survive right now, and their survival is groundwater and what they see is, folks now want to come after their groundwater," says Wenger. "It’s called check mate. You’re done, you’re finished, you’re out of business."

Wenger says the best way to manage groundwater is to increase surface water supplies. He says that helps recharge what’s underground. But Wenger says he only water option he hears is “less.”

"If there’s two people floating in the ocean, and there’s only one life ring to go out there," says Wenger. "One of those people is going to think they’re more important than the other one. And that’s exactly the discussion we have going on right now. 

Two bills calling for sustainable groundwater regulation are being considered in the legislature right now. It’s too early to tell what kind of change will come, and when.

Opinion: Why I'm planning to kayak (and walk) America's 'most endangered' river

By John Sutter


Simona and Adolfo Magaña have no running water; they fill these buckets from a neighbor's tap. (Photo: CNN)

 Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and creator of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. Email him at The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Monson, California (CNN) -- In California, water flows uphill toward money and power. That's a well-known maxim out here, especially in the Dust-Bowl-ready Central Valley -- that forgotten stretch of California that grows 40% of U.S. fruits, nuts and other table foods.

Meet a few people and it's easy to see why.

There's Joel Sampedro, 56, whose garden hose started spitting out sand, not water, about this time last year; or Simona Magaña, a 70-year-old former farm worker who stores water in buckets in the back of a rusty yellow pickup truck because her well is busted and there's no reliable public system for her to hook up to; she uses that nonpotable water to wash dishes, take showers and "flush" the toilet; or Eunice Martinez, 48, who, like many here, makes a distinction between "water," which is the stuff that comes from her tap, and which is usually too polluted to drink, and "drinking water," which is the stuff she buys in plastic bottles.

"We're in the United States of America. We should be able to turn on that water and drink out of it," Martinez told me, standing by her kitchen sink, which has a five-gallon water jug next to it for cooking. "We can't ... It's discriminatory, racist."

This is the invisible California -- the "other California." A place of pickup trucks and pesticides. More West Texas than West Hollywood.

It's the same California John Steinbeck chronicled in "The Grapes of Wrath," the epic book about "Okies" who left the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl and fled to farms here. Some of them are still around. On Tuesday, I went to the town of Tooleville (nickname: "Little Okie"); and the unincorporated town of Monson. There, I met Clarence Harms, whose family came to this supposed promised land from Kansas and Oklahoma when the dust storms made life back there unbearable.

And it's the California that's going to be the subject of my next project in the Change the List series. I'm fascinated by this forgotten valley and a major river, the San Joaquin, that cuts through it. The advocacy group American Rivers recently named the San Joaquin the "most endangered" river in the country. To figure out why, I'm setting off on a three-week journey to try to kayak and walk along its path.

I'm doing so because I want to understand the river and the people who depend on it -- beyond the screaming headlines about drought-year California politics.

I want to get to know this river, at a river's pace, on a river's terms.

I started the journey on Tuesday by going on a tour of the Central Valley with the Community Water Center in Visalia, California. I did that because I wanted to understand how and why water matters to people here. I found out it's everything. Yet there's not nearly enough to go around. Wells are going dry. Those who do have water have to deal with pollution from nitrate, which is linked to blue baby syndrome, kidney disease and other maladies. Some blame farmers for slurping up groundwater with virtually no regulatory oversight from the state. Farm advocates say there's not enough river water for them, in part because of regulations to protect rare fish. They say they're pulling groundwater to survive, too.

I'm going to withhold judgment for now, but I plan to wade deeper into these and many other environmental and social issues on my trip down the San Joaquin. The adventure down the river starts for real on Wednesday. I'm going to hike up to the untouched headwaters, high in the Sierra Nevada.

I'm hoping to end beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in early July.

That's assuming I don't get lost or die of heat exhaustion.

You can follow the journey on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Or, to make it easier, there's a page on that will collect all that stuff for you.

I'll be using the hashtag #endangeredriver.

I could ramble on about my plans, but you'll get to hear all about them in the coming weeks. For now, let me leave you with this: Water is such a deeply personal topic out here in California that Marcelina Sampedro, the wife of the man whose hose started sputtering sand, told me she has two recurring dreams about it.

Both are about a river, but they're slightly different.

Version1: The water is clean and pure. Someone is struggling to swim, but Sampedro is able to grab this anonymous person and pull him or her out to safety.

Version2: The river is polluted, which makes it not unlike the water that comes out of her tap. She and her husband use a $900 water filter/robot (it looks like a miniature version of Eve from WALL-E) to remove the nitrates from the water that comes out of their sink. They both work on fruit orchards, picking crops in the 100-degree heat, paid by the weight, and making about $26,000, together, per year.

In that second dream, again, the person in the river is drowning.

She tries to help but can't.

The unnamed figure drowns.

She wakes up to a life where she and her husband would have no water at home if it weren't for the generosity of Clarence, their neighbor, who gives them water from his well. They're all worried his well could go dry, too.

There are potential fixes for all this, and state programs that are trying to bring safe water to more people in the Central Valley and elsewhere.

But there's just not enough water to go around.

So water continues to flow uphill.

Toward money and power.

That's the history. And, if more's not done, it's looking like the future.

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