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Mar 04, 2015
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Recent California Water News

Commentary: Groundwater and Secession in California

Jul 13, 2011

California Greening Blog

Martin Zehr

Groundwater in California is the focus of the latest water war between water users in the North and users in the South. Some 38% of water used in the state comes from groundwater mining. The battlefield of this war is the Central Valley of California and the Central Valley Aquifer. Norris Hundley estimated California’s groundwater reserves in his book, THE GREAT THIRST p. 527, amounting to 850 million acre-feet, with the caveat that less than half that amount was usable. Running from the Sacramento Valley to the San Joaquin Valley this aquifer circulates roughly 2 million acre feet of water/per year. Withdrawals account for roughly 11.5 million acre ft. /yr. (Data supplied by the USGS: Groundwater Atlas of the United States ). In December 2009 satellite-imaging projected the loss of 30 cubic kilometers of water since 2003. This is creating an unprecedented political struggle in the state of California. Recently a bill was introduced promoting the secession of the Central Valley counties into a new state. http://publicceo.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3092:is-california-on-the-verge-of-creating-a-new-state-some-say-yes&catid=151:local-governments-publicceo-exclusive&Itemid=20 The significance of this lies in the polarization that it demonstrates in the state between water users as represented geographically (between North and South) and politically (between Democrats and Republicans). As Greens we should review this situation in an appropriate context and recognize the validity of all people seeking representation of their ecological needs and concerns. It is most revealing that those who drew the map of this new state failed to include Los Angeles and other coastal regions in the south within the new borders.

The recent report of the Public Policy Institute of California, documented the frequent overdraft in the Tulare and Salinas Basins of the Central Valley. The study proposes the end of the overdraft which is causing subsidence and lowering of the water table. The report proposes the need to establish state infrastructure to measure and monitor groundwater. Its review of “A Way Forward" describes the road traveled as: “California’s failure to regulate groundwater has harmed fish and aquatic life in related streams, compromised groundwater quality, generated conflicts among water users, and hindered the development of groundwater banking and water marketing. Comprehensive basin management, which treats groundwater and surface water in an integrated, sustainable manner, is needed to improve economic and environmental performance of California’s water system.” Its description of the road forward proposes “comprehensive basin management”. It is unfortunate that the writers propose such management in order to “facilitate banking and related water transfers”. The idea that we will be able to map out the aquifers and quantify the groundwater resource would seem to be a long way from the current state of the science. I admit this statement is subject to challenge by those with more scientific background than me. The satellite-imaging data may provide such a capacity.

The hydro-political scenario of a California water secessionist movement is the product of a one party rule of California’s urban governing entities. It is the product of unsustainable population growth that neither party wants to address for their own narrow interests. No one benefits, so long as diversions end the argument. Like the budget deficit talks, both parties prefer to just “kick the can down the road”. Neither political party is prepared to address the structural reforms needed to address adaptive governance. Conjunctive management will happen but it will not solve the issues between Delta users and Central Valley users. Why? Because the concerns are different.

Those calling for secession are right. There will be no representation under the status quo. California water is not governable under the existing paradigm. What we are dealing with is a distinct population of millions, who are knowingly disregarded by a one party system. The sick joke is not the legislation to secede. The sick joke is the power monopolized by the urban centers of the state who manipulate government and public opinion. Groundwater is no different from the other aspects of the water resource- whether supply and demand, monitoring and measurement, water quality or establishing priorities. Until we truly govern together, we cannot manage by ourselves.

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