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Water battle is now going underground
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There are over 500 wells pumping water from the same source — the Eastern San Joaquin Groundwater Sub-Basin.

That includes municipal wells in Manteca, Ripon, Lathrop, Stockton, and Lodi as well as agricultural wells and domestic wells serving rural homes.

 You may consider that irrelevant information given water comes out of your tap when you turn the faucet on.

But what local agencies are doing in the next few years to create a framework to manage the water basin to meet a pending state mandate requiring groundwater basin sustainability will impact how freely water flows and determine who gets how much water.

In a nutshell, the state edict means whatever water is allowed to be pumped within a given time period must be replenished within the same time period. 

It is likely to lead to the Eastern San Joaquin County Groundwater Basin Authority controlling well use including whether new wells will be allowed as well as determine how much water well users can consume.

While Manteca and Lathrop can tap into more surface water from the Stanislaus River watershed via an agreement with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, the other four cities including Ripon rely 100 percent on groundwater. However, the Stanislaus River is facing issues regarding fish releases that could severely cripple the ability of Manteca and Lathrop to use additional treated surface water much beyond what they are now consuming if the state’s diversion plans for minimum fish flows is 100 percent implemented in its current form.

Some have equated the state mandate to essentially being a no growth decree unless users find ways to further reduce per capita water consumption or find new ways to recharge the water basin through such strategies as injecting treated wastewater into the groundwater table.

It is against that background two local agencies will take actions Tuesday — the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and the Manteca City Council.

The SSJID board when they meet Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the district office, 11001 East Highway 120, outside of Manteca will conduct a public hearing on forming groundwater sustainability basin with the cities of Ripon and Escalon. Both Manteca and Lathrop elected to each form their own separate groundwater sustainability agency.

The Manteca City Council when they meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St., will consider approving a joint powers authority agreement establishing the Eastern San Joaquin Groundwater Authority.

By approving the resolution Manteca will become a member agency of the authority to join other agencies at the table such as the SSJID, Stockton, Lathrop, and various mutual water companies.

The members are basically agencies that take water from the basin. Any of the member agencies down the road could combine with neighboring agencies if that is determined to be in their best interest. Given it is uncharted territory, Manteca opted to make sure they had a direct seat at the table.

While California had never previously regulated groundwater basins, the county got ahead of the game in 2011 by forming the Eastern San Joaquin County Groundwater Authority. The San Joaquin County Flood and Water Conservation District has monitored groundwater levels and groundwater quality throughout the county since 1971. They measure 300 of the 550 wells in the county — most of which are in the basin.