Discussions focus on preventing overlap of authority, sharing water-quality data

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

California's Central Valley water board says state employee furloughs have delayed release of a draft plan for protecting ground-water quality.

The board had expected to release the draft by early October but now expects a late-November release. The board said its four August workshops drew large crowds; one attracted some 220 attendees. That meant there was abundant feedback while state furloughs reduced the staff hours available to process it.

Lonnie Wass, supervising engineer with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, said recent spikes in ground-water usage have added urgency to the issue.

California does not regulate or monitor ground water, leaving that to local jurisdictions. The board's strategy would tie together the functions of those entities to avoid overlap and allow monitoring of ground-water quality in the Central Valley as a whole.

In California, ground-water monitoring consists of a patchwork of local efforts. While ground-water access has always been treated as a landowner's unrestricted right, local agencies have begun monitoring the aquifers from which they draw water.

The state created its regional water boards four decades ago to improve surface water quality, but attention has lately turned toward ground water. Meanwhile, dialogue in Sacramento is nudging California toward some form of statewide monitoring system.

The board has assured stakeholders that it's not creating regulations that would restrict pumping by landowners and water districts, but rather seeking ways to coordinate local efforts, Wass said.

"This is not an attempt to invent any new regulatory program," Wass said. "It serves as a road map for how we're going to implement some of those regulatory authorities that are in place."

At the workshops, discussion focused more on where local efforts overlap than on where gaps exist, the board reported. Participants said they want any valley-wide monitoring effort to keep local control intact.

They suggested inter-agency working groups to iron out overlaps. They also suggested a central, publicly accessible database for storing the valley's ground-water data and encouraged a culture of greater communication between public agencies and stakeholder groups.

The board said attendees represented food producers and processors, water and conservation districts, environmental groups and public officials from federal, state and local levels.

Staff writer Wes Sander is based in Sacramento. E-mail: wsander@capitalpress.com .

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