Historic California Water Law

By Ruth Musser-Lopez
8-1-2014.   A couple of weeks ago, the Glimpse of SBC’s Past column was about historic “Historic Water Heists” reflecting upon the current situation of water drought and shortages in our Great Golden State.  Reported in the article, was the Central Valley’s farmers protest of the failed California water supply by posting repeated signage along Highway 99 between Bakersfield and Sacramento reading “No Water, No Jobs…Valley Farmers 2014” and “Food Grows Where Water Flows.”   These signs were illustrated in the article.   One of the signs, not illustrated, blamed “Congress” saying “Congress Created Dust Bowl” and “man made drought.”
On July 29, a Fresno Bee reader, Robert J. Thompson apparently had enough and wanted farmers to support by evidence, their opinion as expressed on their bill boards.  Thompson wrote:  “I would like a farmer to explain to me how this is a politician-created water crisis. How did the politicians divert the rain from the Valley? How did the politicians create this arid Valley? How did the politicians make people farm in areas that have insufficient water in time of drought? How did the politicians deplete the groundwater?  Did the politicians require the farmers to use flood irrigation or plant new orchards? Didn’t the politicians build the dams and canals that store the water for farmers to use in the dry months? Have the politicians required farmers to use wasteful and inefficient irrigation practices? If there are answers to my questions, please put them on your signs, so I can read them as I drive by.”    http://www.fresnobee.om/2014/07/29/4046493/questions-for-farmers.html?fb_comment
Thompson raises excellent questions and since I had a little backyard farm in 2012 and 2013, my Dad was, for about ten years, president of the San Bernardino County Farm Bureau and I have experience on water priority issues as a result of his farm in Idaho, I consider myself to be qualified to answer “farmer questions.”  So here is my take:
Given a finite, not unlimited, amount of water within an aquifer, the availability and distribution of water boils down to priorities and who sets them. Politicians, our elected officials, are responsible for policies that govern priorities placed upon water containment and usage.  Currently, with an August 31 deadline, our own Governor Brown is briskly at work with lawmakers in Sacramento  on a priority bill that might become a landmark measure to regulate groundwater pumping for the first time.  Senate Bill 1168, sponsored by Senator Fran Pavley, could become the most significant water law passed in California in nearly 50 years, requiring local agencies and governments to bring their ground water levels back up to sustainable levels. The bill would require accountability and regular measurement of how much water is being pumped. Well logs, pump taxes, recharge during wet years and priority basins are concepts being considered.  The Porter-Cologne Act empowering government to crack down on water pollution in the State was the last monumental California water measure, passed in 1969 and became the model for the federal Clean Water Act.
Earlier this term, politicians also vote on such questions as “should. there, or should there not be a moratorium on fracking?”  and should it be lawful to use good water for fracking.  Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc., so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.  Each fracking job or well uses about 2-8 million gallons of water, but the term “job” is not strictly defined and some wells consume much more.  A well may be fracked multiple times each time consuming more water.  The record shows that billions of gallons of water are turned into toxic fracking sludge every year – on shore and off.
Lately, that sludge has been injected into deep abandoned oil wells and the water that is mixed with the fracking chemicals is lost forever from the surface environment and our precious hydrological system of evaporation and precipitation.   By the way, the chemical ingredients are kept from the public as “trade secrets.”
Because fracking is a relatively new technology, the future consequences of fracking are unknown and the potential dangers of fracking in an earthquake zone are unknown.  For this reason, some politicians had the good sense to call for a moratorium on fracking until the technology, as it exists in the environment of California, can be studied and until we can learn more about its long-term environmental impact. However the fracking moratorium bill California State Senate bill SB 1132 failed.  Onshore fracking turning billions of gallons of clean water into toxic waste is a reality thanks in part to Senator Jean Fuller (R) who voted against the moratorium.
Senator Jean Fuller (R) whose district includes the huge belt across the north half of San Bernardino County, the east and west Mojave Desert, all the way to Bakersfield and Tulare in the Central Valley. A top contributor to Senator Jean Fuller’s campaign is the oil industry…California Independent Petroleum Association ($3,900), Occidental Oil & Gas ($3,900), Valero Energy ($3,900), plus a whole slew of others, Conoco, Kern oil, totalling $22,800 from the oil and gas industry. Now she wants to be our Senator again in the new Senate District 16.
Farmers might want to note that the water used for feacking could have been used for farming and producing food. Instead it will be used for oil industry profits.
Here is one more thing to keep your eye on when you go to vote and see Jean Fuller’s name sitting so “sweetly” there.  It’s called the “HECA” project. The so-called “clean coal” element of the HECA project sounds healthy but in reality burning it would release significant toxic pollutants into the air and the operation would take 6.6 million gallons every day of the slightly brackish water currently being used on almonds and pistachios in the area.
Billed as a hydrogen energy project, HECA, proposed for the Bakersfield area, promises to produce energy for the production of chemical fertilizer, a little energy for the grid, but large quantities of CO2, the byproduct or waste of burning coal. The CO2 is problematic because of its link to global warming, but the proponents pitch is that it would be injected and “sequestered” into oil wells.
The latest twist on the process of fracking is the addition of CO2.  By adding carbon dioxide into the deep oil wells, oil companies hope to bring up the last drop of oil to the surface kind of like shaking up a bottle of coke before uncapping it.
Carbon sequestration is a geoengineering method being sold as a means to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere under the belief that there is global warming due to excessive CO2 in the atmosphere.  The US Government, and oil companies have partnered to use old oil wells to “store” carbon dioxide gas. A well thousands of feet deep is reported to be capable of being filled and compressed with billions of cubic feet of gas.
The downside is that with the addition of CO2, a well filled with oily gas and other hazardous chemicals previously injected there could potentially contract “environmental gastroenteritis” ending with a belch of the entire hazardous mess erupting like a toxic volcano.
It has been reported that CO2 has eaten through old, capped wells and spewed CO2, methane, brine, oil, and drilling muds in Mississippi. One vented for over a month.   In another case, gas was bubbling up in a nearby water well. For California, earthquake-causing releases should also be considered.  Multiple earthquakes centered around fracking operations and eruptions of liquid sand brought up by carbon dioxide was reported in late May of this year in the area of Greely, Colorado where a four mile long newly formed giant sand flow was video taped and as can be seen on youtube. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2Omha8C4WY&feature=share).
Many opportunities exist for politicians to change water policy and to make more water available to farmers. Fuller also voted against requiring urban and rural water conservation plans to be developed and implemented. Is it fair that some farmers install drip systems trying to spread the water wealth around while others continue to irrigate wastefully just because they can?
We’ve got penalties now for water wastefulness, $500/day…the legislature should now move onto a discussion about incentives and providing incentives for installing water use efficiency systems, drip irrigation and reconditioning of warn out pipes.
The State of California, on its UCLA campus experienced a giant water pipe burst this past week. The water that poured out of there could have easily watered a couple hundred acres of neighborhood gardens and fields of fresh vegetables. While the pipe burst posed more urgent concerns such as threat to lives, loss of important buildings and people’s vehicles in the flooded parking garage, the burst gave us all pause to reflect upon how many other old urban area giant pipes are in need of reconditioning or replacement?
Some up front preventative maintenance would save us from future water losses and put people to work. UCLA is State owned, so there should be State money that needs to be used to tidy up the state infrastructure–setting an example for all.
The planting of permanent orchards by junior water right holders is ill advised business management in the first place, but my hot button is the raping of the California Desert Conservation Area of water in the most water deprived area of the state–the Mojave Desert, in order to provide more water to coastal communities where rainfall is relatively plentiful.
When this state allows and does not prohibit the pumping and piping of water (the Cadiz Project) out from under the East Mojave Desert in order to provide coastal gated communities with more lakes and ponds (that are in a constant state of evaporation) car washes and golf course–then its time for change.  Any water conservation effort on the coast and central valley lessens the threat of more pump and pipe water heists from the desert aquifer.
An example this week of the devastation that over pumping can cause, the Fresno Bee on July 25 reported that water pumping in the west San Joaquin Valley floor is causing the ground to sink and that a new California Water Foundation report says there is no undoing of the underground collapses and no ability to refill those underground spaces when wet years return.  “There are very costly consequences of land subsidence as we’ve discovered in the past,” Andrew Fahlund, deputy director of the nonprofit California Water Foundation told Fresno Bee reporter Mark Grossi, giving a figure of  $1.3 billion in damages.
The California Farm Bureau expressed fear that if the Pavley bill (SB 1168) passes, there will be unintended consequences, huge financial impacts to farmers, particularly almond and walnut growers. It has been reported that many of the nut  orchards are newer and use junior water rights, pumping deeper and deeper in a race to get the bottom of the cup of water first.
Paul Rogers, progers@mercurynews.com reported the Farm Bureau’s concern and the expressions of confidence in the bill by supporters like the Association of California Water Agencies, which represents 440 water districts in the state, who say that action is already long overdue.
“It’s like a shared bank account. But nobody ever has to balance the checkbook,” Rogers reported Lester Snow, former director of the state Department of Water Resources, as saying. “We have based a large part of our economy on deficit spending of groundwater. It has to come to an end…Overall, California pumps out about 2 million acre-feet a year more than is replenished, according to state estimates. That’s enough water for 10 million people a year. The cumulative overdraft over the past 70 years is enough to fill Lake Tahoe.”
Rogers reported that the “the Central Valley — from Redding to Bakersfield — is consuming twice as much groundwater as nature is returning through rain and snow, studies from the University of California and the U.S. Geological Survey have found.”
(Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.om/2014/07/25/4040983/new-report-warns-no-groundwater.html?sp=%2F99%2F217%2F&ihp=1#storylink=cpy)
State mandates that prohibit pumping down an aquifer would protect against subsidence and aquifer heists  like the Cadiz Project.
The Cadiz pump and pipe project, proposed for the East Mojave Desert, needs to be stopped and rendered moot, unless this State wants to turn the most awesome Joshua Tree studded wilderness full of rare and amazing plant species and wildlife into a dead Sahara.  The Mojave Desert attracts a billion dollar tourist industry and makes up a big chunk of Senate District 16–currently under Sen. Jean Fuller’s watch. I have not seen her do one thing to stop the Cadiz Project and in fact she encourages the construction of more evaporating reservoirs where there is 1) no water to fill the ones we already have, 2) when above ground reservoirs waste water through evaporation and 3) where water is already stored naturally underground in the desert and filters naturally through desert sand on down to the Colorado River where it surfaces and can then be used for domestic, recreational and agricultural purposes.
We need new state rules on the local management of groundwater, but it is a huge risk to put the power of making those new rule in the hand of incumbents like Jean Fuller. I am personally doing my best to replace Fuller this Nov. 4. in Senate District 16 and bring common sense to the management of ground water aquifers rather than special interest management bills designed to disproportionately favor a wealthy sector.

About the author:  Ruth Musser-Lopez is a candidate for California State Senator in District 16.  Her name will be on the ballot this November.  She may be reached at Ruth@RiverAHA.org.  Be her friend on Facebook at Ruth Musser-Lopez, 760/885-9374.

This report has been prepared in part by the “Ruth Musser-Lopez for CA Senate 2014” (I.D. #1367746) committee.  For more information see Ruth2014Senate.com

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