The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board suggests that it would be proper state policy to wring the last drop of water out of California’s food producers (“Stop farms from grabbing all the groundwater,” Editorial, Sept. 30).
Faced with reductions in surface water deliveries from the Central Valley Project and State Water Project beginning in 1991 that fell to less than half the 1952-1990 annual average by 2008, our food producers are only receiving 5 percent of the water they are owed.
The federal and state water projects are struggling to deliver water to many users in the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California. Altogether, 84 percent of the state remains in moderate to exceptional drought.
In response to ever-greater cutbacks, cities and farmers resorted to pumping water from wells that tap underground aquifers. Major cities such as Los Angeles, San Jose, Fresno and Bakersfield – and hundreds of smaller towns – are only keeping their citizens alive with well water. Farmers and cities view wells as water supplies of last resort.
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In 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board cut off all water deliveries a few weeks before harvest. Farmers turned to well water to avoid facing lost crops, dying animals and financial ruin.
When water deliveries did not resume this year, even after a so-called average winter of rain, they kept pumping. The surge in well drilling is a direct result of the surface water cutoffs and fear of future water regulations by the state.
The editorial board appears to believe that it’s right to sever this last lifeline. Doing so cuts not just farmers’ and cities’ water supplies, but also relegates to the trash bin our long history of legal water property rights tied to land and multigenerational family businesses.
The state is irresponsibly picking winners and losers. Without recharging surface water, it’s unlikely to heal our aquifers. It’s improper for the governor and state bureaucrats to hold California in a perpetual drought-emergency penalty box.
The editorial was right about one thing. There is a water grab, but it’s not by municipal users and agriculture. It’s by the state bureaucracy, Legislature and governor. Control the water, and you control the economy of the state and every person in it.
Aubrey Bettencourt is executive director of the California Water Alliance, a public policy and advocacy group. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.