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California overdrafts groundwater
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,

After reading the article ‘Manteca turf war’ in Wednesday’s Bulletin, as well as similar articles concerning lawn watering over the past several months, I feel compelled to point out that this fetishization of brown lawns as the solution to the drought may be missing the point. 

Even our own governor, Jerry Brown, who as little as six months ago was pushing his Twin Tunnels idea to send our water south, now seems to be placing the entire cause and solution for the drought on the backs of homeowners who water their meager patch of grass occasionally so that the kids and pets have something to play on other than bare dirt or concrete. And after reading lately the published responses by readers of the Bulletin, the governor’s comments seem to have incited an army of water Nazis who are prepared to lynch anyone who doesn’t let their landscaping die or stop washing their car “ because there’s a drought”.

Yes. We all have to conserve water by every method that we can, and letting our lawns and landscaping die, or watering less frequently, is one way to do that. Sure, every little bit helps. But ‘every little bit’ does nothing to address the real problem, which is over pumping of ground water by agricultural users. The governor didn’t even address the agricultural industry in his recent drought emergency response proposal. Clearly, he knows which side his bread is buttered on and he doesn’t want to mess with them.

According to the U.S Geological Survey, ground water pumping from the San Joaquin Valley aquifer, an area roughly from Stockton to Bakersfield, between the years 1926 and 1970 resulted in a land surface elevation drop of 26 feet in some areas, primarily in the west valley. The area around Mendota saw a 29 foot ground level subsidence between 1925 and 1977, and by the 1970s more than half of the entire Central Valley had experienced an average elevation loss of over one foot. Currently, some areas of the Valley are subsiding at the highest rates ever measured, almost a foot a year, due to ground water extraction by agricultural industry users who are drilling wells 1,000 to 2,000 feet deep to find water. Much of the state’s infrastructure, roads, canals, dams, and pipelines, are suffering damage from the resulting ground level subsidence, and some areas of the aquifer, depending on their soil type, will never recover from the aquifer compaction which is resulting from this ground water extraction. They are gone.

 I doubt that many, if any, Central Valley residents had lawns, swimming pools, or took long showers back in the ‘20s and ‘30s. In those days, plumbing was probably a rarity in small country towns, and nothing that they did contributed to the 29-foot subsidence. And I have no doubt that farmers big and small are wise water users. Wasting water costs them money, and I assume that many of them operate on pretty small margins to begin with. Even still, during the record setting precipitation years of 2010 and 2011, surface water deliveries fell short of requests by agricultural water users, and ground water pumping continued to increase. At this point, it seems to have become unsustainable. 

California has never had water to waste, and it is becoming evident that even if none of us waste a single drop, we won’t have enough water to keep doing what we have been doing for the past century. It looks like the party is over.

 

Stephen Breacain

Manteca