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Mad Hatter crafting state water policy?
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On one hand the state issues a Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan that calls for a massive grab of water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers and says the 209 region can soften the economic impact by pumping more ground water.
Then on the other hand the state issues the Groundwater Sustainability Management Act that decrees water basins in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere in California can’t have more water pumped from them than is returned to aquifers in a given year.
Yes you can. No you can’t.
Lewis Carroll missed the boat creating the Mad Hatter to represent an insanely mad character for Alice in Wonderland. He should have gone with a State of California Water bureaucrat.
The nightmares of farmers, water managers, and city leaders in San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties evolve around the Twin Tunnels, historic mega-drought patterns, unimpaired flows of 40 percent on the three rivers from February to June, pulse flows, groundwater edicts, and the Delta smelt. But none are more vexing than the edict to save the fish saying economic Armageddon will be avoided in a normal year in the 209 region by pumping more groundwater that’s issued on the heels of another state edict. The latest state edict basically prohibits the very increased groundwater pumping the state says is needed so losses in a normal rain year won’t exceed 6,756 jobs, 2,400 acres of farmland going fallow and $260 million in reocurring economic losses in the 209.
The doublespeak on groundwater is what ultimately could lead to irreversible economic and environmental damage just to increase last year’s salmon population on the Stanislaus River by less than 3 percent.
Most of the San Joaquin Irrigation District territory is currently in good shape for groundwater.
Go north of French Camp Road and into the heart of Eastern San Joaquin County and suddenly you go from SSJID that has water tables at sea level to drop offs of 50 feet or more.
The City of Ripon for the last three years has seen its water table drop a foot annually due to the drought and increased groundwater pumping in the sub-basin despite cutting urban water ruse by almost 30 percent.
So is most of the SSJID blessed not to have groundwater tables that have dropped to 50 feet below sea level over the years? They are if you consider the SSJID system itself a blessing.
The SSJID – with water it captures on the Stanislaus River watershed — has created a sustainable groundwater sub-basin by recharging it with the equivalent of 90,000 acre feet of water from flood irrigation, canal seepage, and other forms of irrigation.
That water goes to the wayside once the state plan to use 300,000 acre feet of water to— by their own admission — to generate a yield of only 1,000 more salmon at an annual cost of $260 million. If the state doesn’t think farmers and cities won’t push pumping to keep orchards alive and protect the health and safety of residents, they are in another dimension. Forget about thriving. It will be all about surviving.
And if you think this is just a farm issue, guess again.
SSJID General Manager Peter Rietkerk is right. There is no way that cities could continue to issue building permits under such circumstances. They’d also have to impose draconian conservation measures that will make what is now in place pale in comparison.
That will cause property value — homes, farms, and businesses — to plunge. For the sake of 1,000 more fish we can recreate the days of the Dust Bowl.
Some contend what the state is really up to is setting the stage to toss out a century of water law to commandeer water throughout the state to redistribute it to where it sees fit.
Perhaps that is the case.
But what is now unfolding is a prime example of how the state continues to approach water issues one by one as if they are in a vacuum and not interconnected.
Mark Twain nailed it. Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email