Long drought increases pressure on ground water supplies
By WES SANDER
California's Central Valley water board is proposing a more centralized system for monitoring the quality of ground water used by farmers.
In a draft released for public comment, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board proposes a valley-wide salt- and nutrient-management plan, streamlining of permitting for dairy digesters and various efforts to better coordinate with local ground-water-management plans, among other proposals.
At workshops in August 2009, participants said any valley-wide monitoring effort should leave local control intact.
The board has sought to assure stakeholders that it's not creating regulations that would restrict pumping by landowners and water districts, but rather seeks ways of coordinating local efforts.
The issue has become more urgent as drought conditions caused spikes in ground-water usage in the past three years.
The strategy seeks to tie together local efforts at monitoring ground-water quality. It reflects stakeholder input that pointed out overlapping regulations, the need for a central database and greater communication between users and agencies.
When the state created its regional water boards four decades ago, emphasis fell on improving surface-water quality, but emphasis has lately turned toward ground water.
Unlike most Western states, California does not regulate or monitor ground water, leaving those efforts to a patchwork of local jurisdictions. While ground-water access has always been treated as a landowner's right free of restriction, local agencies have in modern years monitored the health of the aquifers from which they draw water.
The agency will take public comment through Aug. 9, and will take input at public meetings on July 19 in Fresno and July 20 in Delano.
The draft was originally scheduled for publication in October 2009, but the date was then pushed to November, with the agency saying state furloughs had reduced staff time available for the project.
An agency spokeswoman said the staffing shortage was responsible for the plan being delayed another seven months.