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Opinion: Letter to Editor of Press Democrat on California’s Water Crisis

Re: Editorial, Taking stock of California’s water supplies, 8/29/14

Dear Editor:

“Water flows uphill towards money”
– Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert.

California is the only state – not just Western state – which has no regulatory framework or clear authority to regulate groundwater.  Those with the biggest pumps and the most money take the lion’s share, to the severe detriment of nearby and downstream property owners, our rivers, lakes and streams, and our public trust resources like fisheries.

Property owners, farm bureaus, grape growers and developers are still fighting recent court rulings that have recognized the state’s authority to regulate “connected groundwater,” where pumping has damaging impacts to surface water and water rights.

Well and drilling records are not generally made public. Wells are not metered. At least here in Sonoma County, we are finally developing science-based groundwater management plans, but they are still short on preventing reductions to surface water levels and flows.

The new groundwater legislation just being approved is a start for California, but it leaves overall groundwater basin planning on a long leash and timeline.

If some think that groundwater still doesn’t need to be effectively regulated, and soon, this state will look more and more like the deserts of west Texas, Oklahoma and other lands over the once incredibly abundant Ogallala Aquifer, the largest groundwater basin in the continent, whose ancient storage of water underground is now running dry under thousands of square miles of overpumped ag and municipal lands. Efficiencies and avoided waste is the real oasis for our future.

As Jared Diamond accurately reported in “Collapse”, those civilizations throughout history which have abused their soil, water, forests or air will inevitably fail.  It’s been happening for thousands of years, and we here in California are not miraculously exempt.

David Keller